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Crossing Media: Finney and Rocha's Titanium Rain Comes to Audio

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Fully realised and cleverly conceptualised fictional environments like this don’t come around too often in comics. We need to appreciate them when they do…

I've always found Josh Finney and Kat Rocha’s Titanium Rain to be something of an enigma. It’s a graphic novel that contains a number of plots elements that would normally alienate me – future war, military jargon, a techno-heavy narrative – and yet it’s a title that proves the veracity of that hoary old adage about not judging books by their covers, or even by their subject matter in this particular case. Set in the early 2030s, Titanium Rain is ostensibly the story of air force pilot Alec Killian and his comrades Piso, Happy and company; fliers augmented by the Prometheus project and bioengineered to be the ultimate bridge between man and flying machine. In the wake of a devastating civil war in China that has escalated beyond the country’s borders and involved the rest of the world, the book follows Killian and his fellow aviators in both their direct participation within the conflict in the air and in observing their comradeship during those moments of downtime.

When it was collected by Archaia, a couple of years back, there were a number of elements that marked Titanium Rain the graphic novel out as something special. Firstly, Finney and Rocha were canny enough to realise that what makes a great war story is not tales of derring-do or the posed theatrics of conflict but rather the smaller but no less important, human stories of its combatants. Secondly there was Rocha and Finney’s art which brought a whole new dimension to the term “photo-realistic” and grounded this world of biotech and predictive science-fiction in the realms of the recognisable and the ultra-realistic.

But what really defined Titanium Rain was the incredibly detailed and thoughtful world that the creators fashioned for their story; the comic strip element of the graphic novel was only part of the story. Titanium Rain also contained fifty or so pages of background information that elaborated on and cemented the plausibility of this near-future scenario including pages of propaganda posters, biographical information of political figures, maps, aircraft manuals, interviews with the industrialists behind the technology of this society, classified documents and so much more. A remarkable achievement in creating a brilliantly-defined fictional reality that showcased the potential inherent in the project.

Last month saw the interesting development of a Titanium Rain audio play being released on download and CD via AudioComics to accompany the comics original. In itself this is not a unique development as there’s a history of comics characters crossing over into radio drama, and vice versa, going back several decades.  Indeed, to give just a couple of examples from recent years, companies like Big Finish have made a decent stab at bringing the 2000AD universe to their audio range and GraphicAudio have done similar for the DC super-hero world. Although those adaptations have featured often iconic characters and brands well-known outside the comics arena – advantages that the Titanium Rain audio doesn’t have.

            

Pages from the original graphic novel showcasing the detailed world of Titanium Rain

The two major questions I had going in to the Titanium Rain play were, firstly, how faithful would it be to its source material in the transition between media and, secondly, could such an action-packed piece – one with an almost cinematic feel already achieved on the printed page – actually work in this medium, or would it feel largely redundant? One of the great benefits of radio, as is often repeated (perhaps ad nauseum) by the actors who work in it, is that it has an unlimited “budget” and that the only restraint on “special effects” is the individual listener’s imagination. But when that element of visualisation has already been realised to such spectacular effect would that make an audio version feel superfluous or would it still engage on an alternate level?

The first thing that struck me about the radio play was how literal Josh Finney’s approach was from page to audio. Although there is additional material not seen in the comic, there is no major reworking of story structure here which surprised me at first. Not that I expected changes to the storyline per se but I did assume parts of the tale would need to be shifted around slightly; that the history of the world of Titanium Rain and the events that led to the war would need to be repositioned within the narrative to work on audio. In the GN these aspects are recounted towards the end of the book and I was unsure that that placement would work as effectively when switched across the two media. In that respect Titanium Rain the audio is more a direct translation of the book than an adaptation. There’s no compromise in Finney’s delivery and that’s a brave decision that proves to be the correct one in the finished product.

As mentioned above, one of the most memorable aspects of Titanium Rain is its characters and this is the audio version’s greatest strength. As involved and complex as Finney and Rocha’s political backstory is, it’s the humanity of its cast and their very real, very believable reactions to their circumstances that make Titanium Rain such an appealing offering. In that respect it was crucial to have a capable cast who could bring life and soul to characters who were already so well-defined on the printed page. There are no disappointments on that front and the actors involved are adept at recreating the banter, the solidarity, and that almost closer-than-family camaraderie of men and women who depend on each other for their very lives.

Without wanting to spoil anything for those unfamiliar with the graphic novel I will limit myself to saying that all the most memorable scenes for me are those that take place not in the air (which work surprisingly well on audio) but during the characters’ time away from the conflict. It’s in those moments, where Piso, Killian, Happy and co range from playfully mocking each other to sharing deeper thoughts on the lives they’ve chosen, that the performances become particularly evocative. Sometimes that’s quite haunting – a culminating scene with the pilots in the bar post-battle is beautifully and powerfully played for example – and at other times it’s endearing and a testament to the three-dimensional characterisation on show.

As a radio play Titanium Rain could quite easily be listened to by someone unfamiliar with the source material and enjoyed as a gripping piece of audio drama on its own merits. However, I think it works best as complementary material to the book, adding an extra layer of insight and appreciation for its audience into this minutely detailed reality and the motivations of the characters that inhabit it. From that perspective questions of superfluity are easily dismissed.

My fervent hope is that this dip into the transmedia waters proves successful enough for Finney and Rocha to be able to revisit these characters again in the near future, in either format. Fully realised and cleverly conceptualised fictional environments like this don’t come around too often in comics. We need to appreciate them when they do…

You can find out more about the Titanium Rain audio play on the official site here and listen to a selection of audio clips here. The Titanium Rain audio is available now for download from iTunes for $4.99 or as a CD set priced $22.95 from AudioComics here.

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Comments

  • Josh Finney

    Josh Finney Aug 15, 2012 at 6:08pm

    Thanks so much for such a wonderful review, guys! If all goes to plan we should have a copy of the Titanium Rain Audio Drama, part 2 in the mail to you earily next year. Thanks again!

  • Kat_Rocha

    Kat_Rocha Aug 15, 2012 at 6:18pm

    Thank you guys for reviewing the Titanium Rain Audio. Um... just to clear up something, Josh and I collaborated on the artwork together. I am the penciler and flatter, he is the digital painter as well as creates all the CG elements.

    You guys totally rock. Thanks Again!

    -Kat

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 18, 2012 at 12:37pm

    Sorry - that was my error as regards the art accreditation. I've fixed that in the body of the text now! And you're both welcome - in both media the world of TITANIUM RAIN is an incredibly well realised and carefully constructed reality. Can't tell you how pleased I am to hear that the story continues...

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