Zendra 2.0: Heart of Fire
by Stuart Moore
(Penny-Farthing, 2002)

In Zendra 1.0: Collocation, the planet Zendra was pretty much a plot device, starting out as a mythic destination and ending up as the damsel in distress. (Spoiler: Halle saved Zendra.) In Zendra 2.0: Heart of Fire, all of the action takes place on/in Zendra and we are introduced to more of the humans. We discover that all of the humans on Zendra have unique abilities -- such as teleportation, telepathy or a knack for inventing -- because of the "Great Machine" in the core of Zendra.

The story picks up with the Great Machine suddenly malfunctioning and causing a "distortion wave" that incapacitates most of the humans. Halle and a few gifted humans must journey to the core and fix it. Meanwhile, there's a Jekkaran invasion on the surface. In summer-cinema terms, Zendra 2.0: Heart of Fire is The Core meets Pearl Harbor, with a little bit of X-Men 2 thrown in the mix.

If you've read the first Zendra tale and expect to be equally entertained, then you might be disappointed. This installment of the series is light on action and heavy on character interaction, especially in the nicely illustrated narrative prologues. However, the main plot of Heart of Fire doesn't recapture or even imitate the excitement of Collocation.

The main theme here is conflict -- the simultaneous inner and outer conflict in Halle's life. Halle has lost contact with the Aesirian symbiote inside her while her relationship with Aleph (the only non-powered human) has come to an end. This is mirrored in the metaphor of the malfunctioning Great Machine in Zendra's core and the alien invasion on Zendra's surface. The Jekkaran invasion is pretty impressive, but we've already seen the planet of Zendra on the verge of destruction by the Jekkarans. Also, the journey to Zendra's core drags the story down and keeps the most interesting characters away from the most interesting action.

I guess what's really missing is what made Zendra 1.0 so entertaining -- a great villain. We've got the Jekkarans back for another round of devastation, but without Abathor, there's no fun in any of the mindless destruction. As for the malfunctioning Great Machine, there's supposed to be this big mystery and a sense of an enemy within, yet it all seems contrived and predictable.

While the story is somewhat lacking, the artwork in this installment is just as good as 1.0 -- if not better in some cases. There's a real dark mood to several of the scenes, especially in the descent to Zendra's core. Thankfully this time around the artists keep Halle in one uniform to keep her recognizable around a bunch of humans, as opposed to her multiple outfits last time around. (The Halle fashion show is illustrated in a nice panel that shows her evolution from lab rat to planetary protector.)

As great as the artwork and character designs are, it just can't carry the story. While it has its entertaining moments, Heart of Fire is a mediocre story with predictable and lackluster moments that don't successfully continue the grand scale of the first Zendra trade.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 10 January 2004

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