From Screen to Print: “Dark Angel: Skin Game”

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

Skin Game, written by Max Allan Collins, is the highly anticipated “sequel” to Dark Angel’s Season 2 (and series) finale “Freak Nation.” The novel recaps the last 10 minutes of “Freak Nation,” refreshing the reader’s memory about the suspense filled final scenes before Dark Angel went into the depths of cancelled TV hell.  After 37 pages, readers are finally introduced to new material that fans longed for in a third season that would never be produced.

Book 2 of the Dark Angel trilogy.

Book 2 of the Dark Angel trilogy.

Picking up a day after the events of “Freak Nation,” the Transgenics who reside within Terminal City, a part of Seattle that’s quarantined as bio-hazardous to normal humans but safe for Transgenics, are under siege by the oppressing forces of the Seattle PD and the National Guard. Thanks in part to Ames White, the NSA agent and secret member of the Conclave, the Transgenics are labeled by the media as blood thirsty monsters. Much to her reluctance, Max is thrust into the role as leader and representative of all Transgenics, not just the ones in Terminal City. Max’s strategy of dealing with the oppression of the outside world is to resolve the issue without violence; to prove to the “Ordinaries,” a.k.a. normal humans, that Transgenics are not monsters and deserve the right to live a normal life without hatred or discrimination. The only person willing to negotiate with her is Detective Ramon Clemente (portrayed in “Freak Nation” by Rick Worthy), the police negotiator assigned to handle the hostage situation at Jam Pony. Both Clemente and Max are skeptical of each other but share a mutual respect to try and prevent bloodshed with a peaceful solution. While Max works on the inside, Logan, Sketchy, and Original Cindy leave Terminal City and attempt to help the Transgenics on the outside. The plan is to win over the outside world by fighting a war—a war not with guns and violence, but a media war to fight the negative, manipulated news outlets with the truth.

As if things weren’t bad enough, someone on the outside is killing normal humans around Seattle. People are brutally murdered, and when the victims are discovered, they are completely skinned. As Max tries to negotiate peace, her progress is hindered by media coverage that a Transgenic is responsible for the murders. Joshua, the human-canine Transgenic introduced in Season 2, approaches Max with the suspicion that the killer may be one of their own kind, creating high tension between the humans and the Transgenics. With the help of her inner circle (consisting of Logan, Sketchy, Original Cindy, Alec, and Joshua), they must find out who the killer is and why they are killing so many innocent humans.  But the killer has a disturbing motive, one that places Max and her friends in jeopardy… and his connection to an old enemy whose personal vendetta against Transgenics increases with each passing day.

Collins succeeds in getting the tone of the novel to match that of the show, this time capturing the atmosphere that surrounded the second season. The end of “Freak Nation” left many fans wondering, “What happens next?” The police and the National Guard are surrounding Terminal City. Do they negotiate peace or is it a full out warfare? Will Max ever find a cure for the virus Manticore planted inside of her to kill Logan? What about Ames White and the Breeding Cult?

For the most part, Skin Game focuses on the siege at Terminal City and how Max and company attempt to defuse the situation without physical warfare. The end of the book gives promise that they succeeded, but ends before the reader gets to see the results. The questions regarding Max’s virus and the Breeding Cult are not resolved or directly addressed, leaving the door open for the next book to tackle those situations. For the Dark Angel fans, Collins resolves one of the big issues pressing on all the main characters, clearing the way for the other unresolved story-lines to be resolved without the distraction of the Terminal City siege.

I found it interesting that Collins went back as far as to thrust minor characters such as Clemente and Otto Gottlieb, Ames White’s partner (portrayed in the series by Craig Veroni), and featuring them heavily into Skin Game’s plot. While I can understand why Clemente would be a main character for the sake of this story, I found myself fascinated by Gottlieb’s presence. He was a very minor character in the series, not factoring into the plot other than doing the bidding of Ames White and obeying his superior officer. Based on some research, I found this did not sit well with many Dark Angel fans, who were more interested in seeing the characters they loved be more developed as they would have been in a potential Season 3. I personally remembered Clemente, but drew a blank as to who Otto Gottlieb was. At first I figured he was a character made up for the story, but when I found out through the Dark Angel Wiki that he was a minor character, it surprised me that Collins would choose him to feature into the main plot, even though he helps contribute to Max’s public relations effort.

One of the new characters introduced in this book was Bobby Kawasaki/Kelpy, a Transgenic with abilities based on a chameleon, who killed and skinned humans for his own twisted agenda. Collins did another bold move by inserting Bobby’s presence in a few episodes such as “Designate This,” recalling a scene in the episode’s final minutes and placing Bobby in the background as a literal invisible character. Bobby is also an employee at Jam Pony, which makes the character all the more intriguing; he’s characterized as an individual that many people do not notice or find easy to ignore, making me wonder if Collins made Bobby up or if there was an extra on the set that he saw when watching the series and decided to make the extra into a new main character. I’ve looked on the Internet to see if anybody has found an extra that resembles Bobby’s description in the book but came up with no answers. The next time I watch the second season of Dark Angel, I’ll have to pay attention to the extras to see which theory is correct.

Max doesn’t get in on the action as she did in Before the Dawn. She stands more on the sidelines in terms of the physical action, but her role as leader and representative of the Transgenics doesn’t allow her to be on the fighting end of the conflict. It was a different role for Max, but it didn’t take away from the familiar characterization fans have of her from the series and the prequel novel. The other main characters such as Logan, Alec, and Original Cindy have a limited role early on in the story, but contribute more prominently to the plot towards the end.

One of the few problems I had with Skin Game was a conflict in the timeline at the beginning. The story takes place over a span of five days, starting from the night of the Jam Pony hostage incident, with the next chapter taking place early the next morning, but it’s stated in the book that forty-eight hours pass. Whether I misunderstood reading it or this was a goof on the author’s part, this was the only real thing that bothered me as I read the novel. The only other issue I had was that Collins, once again, spelled Max’s last name as “Guevera” when it should be “Guevara.” This was not corrected after the first novel, suggesting that the third novel likely didn’t correct the spelling either.

Much like Before the Dawn, a pop culture reference was made in Skin Game that was highly amusing. Joshua and Alec attempt to locate an X5 working as a janitor at a local elementary school in hopes that he has information to help identify the Transgenic responsible for the murders. The school they visit is the Ichiro Suzuki Elementary School, named after the former Seattle Mariners All-Star outfielder. I’m not sure if they would still name a school after him today, but at the time the novel was written (2003), it was reasonable to think that would be plausible.

While not as action packed as Before the Dawn, Skin Game does well in satisfying the fan’s longing for resolutions to the series, despite only addressing one unresolved storyline. Clocking in at 260 pages and 12 Chapters, Skin Game keeps a fast pace throughout that leaves reader eager to jump right into the third novel the moment they finish the reading the final page, not only to find out what happens next but to gain answers to Dark Angel’s remaining unresolved questions.

Grade: 4 out of 5.

Miss something? Click on the links below of other Dark Angel reviews.

TV Series Review:
Retro Review: “Dark Angel

Novel Reviews:
From Screen to Print: “Dark Angel: Before the Dawn” (Book 1 of the Dark Angel trilogy)

From Screen to Print: “Dark Angel: After the Dark” (Book 3 of the Dark Angel trilogy)

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