Polymer City Chronicles by Chris Morrison, reviewed by Justin

For over three years, Chris Morrison has been regularly producing Polymer City Chronicles, a science fiction-based humor comic. Shockingly, it’s not a Star Trek knock-off.

For over three years, Chris Morrison has been regularly producing Polymer City Chronicles, a science fiction-based humor comic. Shockingly, it’s not a Star Trek knock-off.

The above statement may seem an obscure point to make, but nearly every media of sci-fi humor has been so riddled with Trek-ribbing over the past 30 years that Morrison’s originality within his genre warrants its own applause.

That’s not to say there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek in the comic, which features a odd grouping of spacefaring adventurers and the adventures in which they spacefare. In fact, each character is a cartoony replicant of a familiar archetype. If PCC has a main character, it’s probably Dr. Otto Bonn, who looks and acts like The Real Ghostbusters’ Egon Spengler in almost every way. Otto’s labeled as a mad scientist, but in reality he’s just an incredibly wry man with a lot of gizmos, and has been known to make absurd comments about his crewmates’ cup sizes with a deadpan poker face.

Speaking of the mammary-enhanced crew, they’re all female aside from the doctor himself. Otto’s alien wife Andrah is a bit like an introspective version of the Hulk, with two big "differences." Lynn Deanna Jones is another crewmate who’s built like a truck with generous airbags, and shares numerous similarities to a familiar tomb-raiding game heroine. The webcomic’s resident cat/dog/etc-girl is the waifish (by comparison) Sheera. Non-crew characters include bulbous-eyed, alien ally Grey, and the villainess Mistress Laura, who wants to be Lady Death so bad you almost expect them to bare-knuckle box for the title.

The art in Polymer City Chronicles is deceptively simple because it’s cleanly done, but it’s no hack-job. I wouldn’t label it minimalist, though backgrounds only exist when they need to, and color never does. Since it’s usually the same band of characters in a spaceship all the time, you don’t really need to see backgrounds for contextual purposes, but it would be nice to see the characters in color once, if for no other reason than to know what they’d look like.

Perhaps it’s the strange combination of archetypes that makes Polymer City Chronicles so refreshing, or the way its characters venture outside of their cookie-cutter personae. Otto, for example, proves to be a dedicated captain to his entire crew, and a loving husband, while Andrah is under the impression that her massive size obligates her to bear all burden. With such well-developed characters, I scoured the archives wishing Morrison would make Polymer City Chronicles into something more than a gag comic that riffs on video games and current events.

To my great pleasure, the majority of 2002 was just that: a longform storyline that explained some of Sheera’s heritage also allowed for a more personal look at character interaction. The story never fully tied itself up before the comic went back to a gag format, and I personally hope for it to resume one day. My only quibble is how the comic remained self-referential during this serial period. There’s a cutesy sort of Warner Brothers feel to it, but when a director suddenly yells "CUT!" in the middle of an serious, ongoing storyline, it diminishes a year’s worth of storytelling effort by eliminating the fourth wall and, thus, any real danger to the characters. That said, Polymer City Chronicles‘ writing is as good as its art, no matter the framing.

The site design was a bit of a navigational letdown. Maybe we’ve all been spoiled by the navigational abilities of AutoKeen, but the ability to flip readily within the archives to scan through more than one comic at a time was sorely missed. Also, the tiny buttons at the top of the archive pages assume you’re familiar enough with the comic to know that "Q" means "Quit to the homepage" (If you’re that familiar with the comic, why are you piecing meticulously through the archives?). Still, the newspaper look is pretty cute, and if you go to the basic archive page, you’re set.

With a cast of pretty farcical characters, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that Polymer City Chronicles has been running since January of 2000, largely as a gag comic, without running out of steam. The more you read it however, the more you realize that Morrison has figured out the secret formula for comic longevity: if you flesh out your characters well enough, they’ll take over for you.