So, last fall, I went to see Pacific Rim. Several times, in fact. My continued fannish ranting about the film was probably what led Saika to buy me the Pacific Rim prequel comic for my birthday. I knew the comic was written by Travis Beacham, the co-writer of the Pacific Rim screenplay, so whatever was in the comic could practically be considered canon. I was beyond excited.
Spoilers for both Pacific Rim and Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero after the jump.
Tales From Year Zero is a beautifully colored 112-page book that, as its title implies, covers exactly how the Jaeger Program began and who was involved in its inception. We start before the movie with reporter Naomi Sokolov. Her bosses at the newspaper don’t want to get too into the workings of the Jaeger Program, as it’s going to be scrapped to fund a wall to keep out the kaiju, so she’s interviewing various high-level P.P.D.C. members for a puff piece called “Why We Fight”. Throughout the course of the comic, she talks to Tendo Choi, whom we met in the movie, Dr. Jasper Schoenfeld, the guy who first came up with the idea for a Jaeger, and finally, Marshal Stacker Pentecost himself. Each one shares his story, why he fights, and his hopes that Naomi will write a real article on the Jaegers, not just a puff piece.
As a big fan of the movie, it was absolutely thrilling to see the backstories of the characters whom I’d come to love. I actually think they should have made a film out of all the stories here first, and then finished up the story with Pacific Rim. It would have had so much more of an impact—instead of cramming all the backstory into the first few minutes of the movie, telling instead of showing the stakes, del Toro could have woven an absolutely brilliant film out of all the ideas in Tales From Year Zero. I mean, Pentecost’s death was already a major blow to the feelings—think about how much more it would have hurt had we seen how hard he’d worked, how much he’d given up to get to that scene by the Breach. Gosh, I’m shaking just thinking about it.
Tales From Year Zero also, in my humble opinion, did a much better job illustrating that the kaiju were an international problem than the movie. Not because it necessarily had more international characters or international locations—I still really want to see that base in Lima—but because it delved more deeply into the histories of the international characters we did have. On a personal level, I loved Tendo Choi’s story the most: he’s in San Francisco when the first kaiju attacks, and while the city falls around him, he runs to Chinatown to save his grandfather. Unfortunately, he speaks very little Cantonese, and his grandfather speaks very little English—a problem with which, as a child of Asian immigrants, I can definitely sympathize—and they just barely manage to get out before his grandfather dies. (I also loved that Dr. Schoenfeld was a Carnegie Mellon graduate and that the Jaeger Program had its humble beginnings outside of Pittsburgh—a lot of us here at Lady Geek Girl are Pittsburghers, and CMU is my alma mater.)
However, Tales From Year Zero‘s main failing comes with the ladies. We already know that Pacific Rim had some problems when it came to female representation—namely that Mako Mori was the one woman of any note—and Tales From Year Zero follows much the same pattern. You’ll note that each of our three storytellers is male (although they tell their stories to a female, if largely personality-less, character). That means that the C.T.O., the Marshal, and the head scientist behind the Jaeger Program are all guys, and there’s absolutely no reason that they all have to be.
The female characters who do exist are amazing, which just makes it worse. Each storyteller loses someone he loves to the kaiju, as motivation for why he fights. For Tendo, at least, it’s his grandfather, who dies from the radiation in the kaiju blood. For Pentecost, though, it’s his sister Luna, an utterly badass R.A.F. pilot who takes a squadron of British bomber planes to try and stop the San Francisco kaiju and is ultimately unsuccessful. After that, it’s his first Drift partner, Luna’s friend and fellow pilot Tamsin, who gets cancer from her time in their Jaeger and dies at the end of the comic. Schoenfeld’s girlfriend, Dr. Caitlin Lightcap, doesn’t die, but he loses her to the Jaeger Program when she’s found to be Drift-compatible with their highest-rated pilot and goes off to battle (and be with the pilot). All of these ladies are incredibly interesting and I would eagerly read an entire store’s worth of comics about Luna and Tamsin and their R.A.F. adventures, and about how Tamsin became a Jaeger pilot after Luna’s death. And Caitlin, a woman who manages OCD and depression on her way to becoming “the stuff of legend”? Sign me right up. However, we only get very brief glimpses of each lady’s life, because they don’t get to tell their own stories—their stories are told through their relationships with the male storytellers.
And considering that the Jaeger Program takes place several years in the future, it would have been only right to have some canonically queer Drift partners in the comic. Drift partners must, out of necessity, be “best friends” who are close enough to walk in and out of each other’s heads, and in the movie we see that the most successful Drift partners are either family or couples. Caitlin even leaves Schoenfeld for her Drift partner, which just goes to show how strong the lure of the Drift is. When an increasingly sizable proportion of the world’s population is identifying as and openly accepted as queer, it’s both improbable and disingenuous to say that the Jaeger Program didn’t have any queer couples who were important enough for the story.
Despite these flaws, though, Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero is a great comic for any Pacific Rim fan, and it stands strongly enough on its own that I can only hope an entire franchise of comics is born out of the stories herein. Buy it and give it a try! Hopefully it’ll tide you over until the rumored Pacific Rim sequel.