Dawnrunner is a mecha-kaiju comic about the ‘Bandai-ification’ of the military-industrial complex

Each beloved work of mecha fiction, be it anime or not, isn’t simply about cool robots. Whether or not it’s the anti-war underpinnings of Cellular Swimsuit Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion’s allegory for studying to like and be beloved in return, or a commentary on the methods through which energy is concentrated in the fingers of a choose few, the mecha style is crammed with tales that drive at one thing deeper than the chrome-plated exteriors of its humanoid warfare machines.

Dawnrunner, the new unique sci-fi comic collection from Detective Comics author Ram V and artist Evan Cagle (Catwoman #32), follows in the footsteps of these giants, crafting a story that follows Anita Marr, a mech pilot in a post-apocalyptic future who should pilot a highly effective new prototype to defeat an extra-dimensional risk. It’s a mecha-kaiju story, sure, but it surely’s additionally a ghost story, depicting the relationship between Anita and a weapon that appears to have a thoughts of its personal — fairly actually. It’s a massive action-drama with massive, lovely paintings and even greater questions at its core. For instance: What do all human beings have in widespread, even centuries aside? Or one other, as Cagle places it: ‘What if the military-industrial complex acted extra like Bandai?”

“I’d had this story in my head probably around 2015 or 2016-ish,” Ram instructed Polygon in an interview over Zoom. “It had begun in concept as a mecha-kaiju story, but also with the sci-fi of it, the human drama of it, and the elements of a ghost story. The basic idea being people communicating with each other across time.”

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

Although he had the primary idea down, a mecha-kaiju story that might be summed up as “Pacific Rim as told by the people behind Arrival,” it wasn’t till Ram got here throughout Evan Cagle’s paintings on social media that the thought that may develop into Dawnrunner started to completely spring to life.

“I hadn’t really acted on it until I saw this illustration that Evan had done for Neon Genesis Evangelion called Golgotha. I saw that and I went, Man, if I ever do that mecha-kaiju story, this is the artist I have to work with.” Shortly after, Cagle reached out to Ram to go with him on his 2018 graphic novel Grafity’s Wall, in addition to specific his need to collaborate in future. “It was largely serendipity, but part of it is that it was one of those ideas that had been floating around in my head for a while. So I’m glad it all came together.”

Set almost a century after a race of mysterious gigantic monsters generally known as the Tetza invaded Earth, Dawnrunner takes place in a world the place civilization has radically modified — governments have been dissolved, changed by an oligopoly of weapon producers devoted to combating the Tetza with colossal mechanized weapons generally known as “Iron Kings.” Greater than 100 years of standstill battle has remodeled the warfare towards the Tetza into a televised spectacle on par with a gladiatorial sport — the place champion pilots are lionized as celebrities and defeating the Tetza is a formality in service of preserving energy and revenue.

An interior page from Dawnrunner #1, featuring characters Anita Marr and Andro Lestern.

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

A full-page illustration from Dawnrunner #1, featuring a point-of-view shot of a man holding a champagne glass to a table of guests identified through an augmented reality heads-up display.

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

“More than anything else, it’s a reflection of my view of the commodification of human conflict that we see now,” Ram instructed Polygon. “Y’know, there’s a war going on in Ukraine, there’s a war going on in Israel and Palestine, and I think Western media and global media, to a large extent, look at these conflicts as opportunities for engagement [and] to explain an exciting narrative to their viewers. Every time I see or hear someone describe something as an ‘exciting day in Ukraine today,’ or ‘What are the military tactics of so-and-so operation, oh, so interesting,’ I think only someone who is so disconnected from the humanity of it all could ever make such a comment as ‘That conflict was very interesting today.’ To me, what we see in Dawnrunner is a logical consequence of that.”

Cagle compares this commodification of an existential risk to humanity in Dawnrunner to the method toy producers like Bandai have marketed Gundam mannequin kits. “Like, every week, you’re going to introduce a new mech or a new enemy so that you can roll out a toy of it in the following months. There are different in-universe story reasons for why you roll out a new toy every week, but they’re kind of all bullshit, right? Like, everybody knows that the reason you’re getting a new one every week is so they can sell you a toy of it. Dawnrunner sort of asks the question, ‘What if the military-industrial complex acted more like Bandai?’”

This philosophy, naturally, carries over to the designs of the Iron Kings themselves — notably the Dawnrunner. Cagle cites a number of examples from anime and manga that impressed his strategy to designing the collection’ titular mech, from movies like Cellular Swimsuit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack and Steel Pores and skin Panic MADOX-01 to collection like VOTOMS and The 5 Star Tales. “It really is just a grab bag of everything I love,” Cagle says. “I wanted the [Hajime Katoki]-style fins from this Gundam on the back of Dawnrunner; I wanted the [Kazumi Fujita]-style feet from Hi-Nu Gundam. It feels a lot like kitbashing, trying to figure out how to mash all these things together in a way that’s cohesive.”

A full-page illustration of Dawnrunner, covered in acidic spray, holding the decapitated head of a Tetza.

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

An interior page from Dawnrunner #1, depicting a news helicopter flying overhead of a Tetza creature being surrounded by a pair of Iron Kings.

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

An interior page from Dawnrunner #1, depicting the Dawnrunner Iron King lifting up a Tetza and stabbing it with a wrist-mounted sword.

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

The end result is a mecha design that pays homage to the likes of Cellular Swimsuit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion, all whereas being one thing fully its personal: a towering, cyclopean behemoth with distinguished, jutting thighs and an eerie, skeletal higher physique. “From his color scheme on down, racing aesthetics had a large part to play in his design,” Cagle instructed Polygon. “He doesn’t have any straight lines; everything is a curve, everything is a compound curve, everything is a Bézier. It’s all these sort of flowing Ferrari lines, as opposed to the other Iron Kings, which have a lot more straight lines.”

Past the eminently fashionable artwork fashion and smooth mechanical design, nonetheless, lies the beating coronary heart of Dawnrunner: the collection’ protagonist, Anita Marr. The star “jockey” of Cordonware, one of the 5 megacorporations answerable for setting up the Iron Kings, Anita is an intensely personal one that occurs to be one of the most well-known folks in the world, shouldering the weight of her function as each a public determine and a soldier with solemnity and poise. When Anita is dispatched to pilot the cutting-edge Iron King prototype Dawnrunner throughout a routine sortie towards a Tetza, all seems to be enterprise as traditional.

That adjustments when Anita, momentarily incapacitated mid-battle, is overcome with an out-of-body imaginative and prescient of a man she doesn’t acknowledge. The second difficulty picks up in the aftermath of the skirmish, with Anita having efficiently managed to defeat the Tetza, albeit plagued with doubts from her expertise piloting Dawnrunner.

[Ed. note: Spoilers for Dawnrunner #2 below.]

An interior page from Dawnrunner #2, featuring protagonist Anita Marr and maintenance crew performing repairs on Dawnrunner.

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

An interior page from Dawnrunner#2, featuring protagonist Anita Marr, her coworker Cat, and Dawnrunner.

Picture: Ram V, Evan Cagle/Darkish Horse Comics

It seems that Dawnrunner’s working system is constructed on the thoughts of Ichiro Takeda, a soldier whose physique was recovered after the Tetza’s preliminary invasion over a century in the past. To efficiently pilot Dawnrunner, Anita should one way or the other persuade Ichiro — who has no concept that he’s useless, or that his thoughts is being preserved with a purpose to energy a mecha — to help her in her battle towards the Tetza. That’s simpler stated than completed, as each Anita and Ichiro should be taught to belief each other with a purpose to create a power succesful of rescuing humanity from the brink of extinction.

“In creating this gap between Anita and Ichiro, we’re getting into one of the things I love exploring,” Ram instructed Polygon. “Not only through Dawnrunner, but a lot of my stories, which is this idea that people are fundamentally born to communicate and make connections, regardless of how many things stand between them. Dawnrunner is really a narrative about that, about having to form connections, quite literally across lifetimes in this case, and how that connection then reinforces what Dawnrunner wants to do in this world. It’s a two-pronged narrative about connection and communication, both between a pilot and a mech and between a person and another person.”

A post-apocalyptic mecha-kaiju drama with beautiful illustrations and a resounding emotional throughline, Dawnrunner already looks like one of the most fun releases of 2024. With solely two points of its deliberate five-issue run out up to now, Ram V and Cagle really feel assured about the collection’ arc and determination, whereas leaving open the risk of future tales set in the Dawnrunner universe down the line. “I feel like it leaves off, even at the end of this first trade, in a place where we could easily come back and go like, And then next year, this is what happened. But we’ve also got other things planned, and we’d like to see this have its time and grow a little bit before we look at whether to come back to it.”

Dawnrunner difficulty 2 is obtainable to buy digitally at Dark Horse Comics and in print wherever comics are offered. A collected version arrives in November.

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