In Lost Vegas 1, Eisner Award winners Jim McCann and Janet Lee (Return of the Dapper Men) manage to marry a wacky high concept sci-fi story with deep characterization and unique visuals. On the surface, Roland is just another space scoundrel like Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds. However, he lacks these characters’ penchant for action and falls flat at bravado with his laughable attempts to seduce a pair of showgirls. The story makes clear that Roland is a “thinker”, and his failed attempt at conning a savage alien at Black Jack earns him his sentence in Lost Vegas, a penal colony located inside a casino on a spaceship. (And who said originality was dead.)
The plot is a combination of the typical “jailbreak” and “last job” plots found in many comics and films. But the believable characters and subtle social commentary keep it from being trite. The characters aren’t on the same page in their motivations, but they aren’t constantly yelling at or fighting each other. With the exception of Roland, they aren’t three dimensional, but have certain traits that leave room for more. Will dreadlocked, tech wizard Rinny liberate the whole prison instead of just taking Roland’s money and leaving? Why does Loria, who has a legitimate job at the casino, help in Roland’s madcap escape plan? Also, Roland’s best friend is a telepathic tentacle parasite who looks at cards for him and says cryptic foreboding things.
There are a few moments of biting commentary about the science fiction genre and society in general. For example, when Roland and his convict/waiter buddies walk into the casino, they look like white males with matching ventriloquist doll smiles, courtesy of Lee. Along with Roland’s inner monologue in the scene, it makes the reader wonder why the majority of protagonists of sci-fi television and films are white males or humans in general. Even alien protagonists, like The Doctor, look human. Hopefully, Abrams will give a non-human looking alien a major role in Star Wars: Episode VII. With Roland’s mention of the Post-God War, refugees, and destroyed colonies, it seems like Lost Vegas is just a place for the rich to fritter away their money and assets while the galaxy sits in ruins. This entertainment complex is a hedonistic insult to their desperate plight. But Roland isn’t a hero or social justice advocate, he’s mainly concerned with getting out, getting money, and getting his next cigarette.
Janet Lee is one of the most unique comic book artists today. Before Lost Vegas, she did the art on Marvel’s comic adaptation of the Jane Austen novels Emma and Northanger Abbey. Therefore, she gives a kind of timeless aesthetic to the space casino and its denizens. The showgirls and gamblers look much like they do today in Las Vegas and back when Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack used to croon at casinos. However, her crowd scenes are extremely detailed and diverse. Not one face looks the same. Her faces have a sort of otherworldly quality to them, and she isn’t concerned with photorealism when it comes to people or tentacle creatures. A scene in which Ink telepathically links Roland, Rinny, and Loria with its tentacles needs psychotropic drugs to get the full effect. But her most breathtaking scene is the farewell performance of dancer Kaylex and her pet alien/elk. The two page spread is beautifully choreographed, and there is an aura of mystery behind this character. With her prominent placement on the cover, she could be a red herring or a major player in Roland’s quest to get out of Lost Vegas. McCann and Lee build a unique, wacky world without overdoing it with exposition, and though the plot didn’t offer too many white knuckle thrills, there’s a great cliffhanger and plenty of mysteries to be revealed later in the series.