I was recently introduced to Biowars, an online comic book series, created by Gabriel Shaoolian along with a team of writers and artists. Now, I’ve been a fan of webcomics for some time, and I regularly follow works like The Order of the Stick, Girl Genius, and Schlock Mercenary. Right from the beginning, Biowars gave me a different impression from the other webcomics I read. It seems to be less of a webcomic and more of a digital comic book.
What’s the difference? Well, while webcomics like The Order of the Stick release their work online, they do so in a page-by-page format. Readers see each new page as it’s released, and once an entire story is complete, the pages are compiled into a book and released as a completed story. I’ve seen this format across enough webcomics to consider it a sort of “industry standard.” Fans of the page-by-page work can buy the print versions in order to have their own hard copies of the books and to get the bonus content that comes with it, which usually includes deleted scenes, author commentary, and other additional material not found online.
Biowars seems to operate on a very different concept, which is closer to the way traditional print comics work. A full issue is uploaded to the Biowars website once a month, and they have a page where you can view all of the issues currently released. They’re free to read, but unlike other webcomics, you get a full story at a time. It can also be read online as a digital book or downloaded for free in PDF format. This is definitely a different style than I’m used to seeing, and I can see some advantages to it. Since the comic is released a full issue at a time, there’s no waiting in the middle of a storyline to find out what happens next. Though of course, there is a “To be Continued” at the end of every issue, and an ongoing story arc continues across the entire series.
As of this writing, there are nine issues currently posted online. I decided to start at the beginning in order to find out what kind of world these comics would create. The first page of issue #1 started out with some very vivid and interesting artwork, and introduced an interesting premise. The beginning of the story takes place inside a human body, with quasi-mystical beings engaging in a conflict against a “pathogen from the beyond.” This intrigued me right from the start; it gave me the impression of a story similar to Innerspace or Osmosis Jones, but with more of a fantasy and supernatural feeling, rather than being purely sci-fi. As if our inner workings are controlled by magic and other arcane forces, rather than by medical science. The concept seemed so unique that I had to read more and find out what would happen.
The story does show some sci-fi aspects, though at times it’s hard to tell where the science ends and the fantasy and mysticism begin. There are soldiers who seem to represent white blood cells and who use some kind of biotech scanners to search for infections. They fight with biological weapons or in hand-to-hand brawls with their enemies. But then there are characters with more mystical natures. For example, Sutura (pictured to the right), is described as “a healer.” She’s able to use some kind of empathic ability to “sense” how “the world” (the human body the characters live in) is in pain. This makes her seem like a cross between a component of the human nervous system and a Druid who uses magic to understand the plight of Mother Nature. She then performs healing on damaged tissues, and her healing powers seem much more mystical than technological.
Similarly, the “bacteria” that the characters are battling against are depicted as demonic monsters, alien in appearance and swarming in a massive horde. The battle sequences are in the style of proud soldiers doing battle against a swarm of alien invaders. When reading the battle sequences, you almost forget that this is a collection of cells fighting off a bacterial infection. It’s depicted more like an army defending their homeworld from invasion.
Then, about halfway through the first issue, my entire understanding of the world got thrown upside down.
The first issue cuts from the battle raging inside the body to show what is happening outside. We find out that the infected body is that of Alexander Hawking, a man on the run. He’s being chased by some kind of high-tech secret agent through the streets of New York. What the agent is after isn’t immediately apparent, but the entire “real world” sequence immediately raises all kinds of questions. Was Alexander infected with some kind of top secret genetically engineered supervirus? Who are the people responsible? Suddenly I feel like I’ve been pulled out of a mystical-slash-sci-fi-fantasy-alien-warzone story and into something more like a traditional comic book story. Alexander may turn out to be like Bruce Banner or Peter Parker, a man who has been genetically altered in a way that might end up granting him superpowers (though the exact nature of the infection has yet to be revealed).
Despite the way these two halves of the story have a very different genre and feel, I can’t help feeling like they’re going to be woven together in a combined plot line. The concept is fascinating, and not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before. I can see all kinds of potential for the way the two halves of the story might interact, with Alexander’s experiences in the real world affecting his body in ways that impact the struggles of the “soldiers” living inside of him. Or the victories and failures of those soldiers affecting Alexander’s life in ways that I expect will go far beyond a simple cough and cold. The story goes back and forth between the two halves, so you constantly see the balance between Alex’s struggle in the real world and the internal struggle of the biological soldiers inside of him.
I’ve read all nine issues that are currently available, and I found the story to be quite intriguing. So far there’s mad scientists, high-tech secret agents, mystery, intrigue, political scandal, murder, and a genetically engineered supervirus created by a secret organization with plans to change the world. And that’s just on the outside. Meanwhile, inside Alex’s body, the struggle against the virus continues, with mutations causing it to spread, while the bio-warriors struggle to stave off the infection in order to protect their biological universe.
I’m curious to see where the story will go from here, and I’ll definitely be checking out future issues.
If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find the Biowars comic here. You can also find updates and previews on Facebook and Twitter, and the creators run a blog where they discuss comic books, superheroes, and similar topics.