Review: Explore how Terminator: Salvation came to be in a graphic prequel

The wrecked L.A. of the Terminator movies is pretty much a visual cliché at this point—the twisted rebar, broken concrete, bluish night sky. The look and feel of this future, depicted in three Terminator features so far and by a few episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, is defined by L.A. itself. I mean ... a post-nuke New York wouldn't look the way the future L.A. does in The Terminator, right?

Which makes what the new IDW graphic novel Terminator: Salvation Movie Prequel (IDW Publishing, $17.99) promises for the upcoming Terminator: Salvation kind of refreshing. The conflict with Skynet is global, something that was glimpsed in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and John Connor is leader of the human resistance, not the L.A. resistance. This graphic novel, which collects the individual four issues of the limited comic-book series scripted by Ferret Press stalwart Dara Naraghi, with illustrations by Alan Robinson, shows the worldwide fight against Skynet—and shows how John Connor, operating out of a bunker in L.A. like a messianic ham radio operator, can co-ordinate the surviving humans into concerted strike teams that hit the Terminators and hit them hard.

There's also an Official Movie Preview at the back of the graphic novel, scripted by Desperadoes writer Jeff Mariotte, that's not directly connected to main narrative and that does give a small hint of what John Connor has been doing since Judgment Day. But this raises more questions than it answers ... as you'd expect in a "movie preview."

John Connor, though, is a peripheral character in this graphic novel, so those wanting to know details of what happened to him between Terminator 3: the Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation might be disappointed. The focus here is on concerted strikes against Skynet in Detroit and Arlit, Niger, part of an operation called "Sand in the Gears," under the direction of Connor.

While it's great to see how a really complicated intercontinental attack on a pissed-off and genocidal AI involving people from different races and creeds might work, Terminator: Salvation Movie Prequel does get a little preachy, much to its detriment, when it addresses issues of racism in Detroit and colonialism in Niger. There are moments set in Detroit that come across as outtakes from Gran Torino, featuring T-600s instead of gang members. These thematic discussions are laid out in the first few pages, and we can smell 'em comin' down the irradiated block. I was hoping Naraghi would come up with something new, or put a nifty spin on things. But to no avail.

People pumped for the new movie might want to know, is this a new Terminator arc, reflecting the new timeline hinted at in the Terminator: Salvation trailers? Sure, if the people who created Terminator: Salvation Movie Prequel say it is (along with the studio licensing department, of course). But this graphic novel feels like pretty much like any other Terminator comic book, easily inserted into the continuity of the old 1980s NOW Terminator comic-book series, the Dark Horse Terminator comic series, the Malibu series or the Dynamite series. It's good for what it is ... a depiction of two teams of resistance fighters blowing the crap out of Terminators and kicking Skynet right in the ball bearings, and who doesn't like that? It might be a good read while you're waiting in line to see Terminator: Salvation.

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