by Clyde Hall. “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?” It’s the punchline of a joke about misguided faith called “The Drowning Man.” But perhaps the ultimate parallel to its manifestation in reality is found in the pages of a comic book. In Astronaut Down #1, writer James Patrick has bottled within his narrative the frustrations many of us have experienced over the last two years, a vintage of vexation fermented when political deflection and inaction meets growing global emergencies. It’s a cautionary story of polling points priorities, polarizing viewpoints, and downplayed or dismissed data swirling together as a perfect storm for humanity’s final act. 

Our world has contracted a bizarre form of planetary cancer for the foreseeable future. It’s a quantum mutation deadly to human life, and it’s growing. Quickly. By the time those in power have acknowledged the threat and funded theoretical cures for it, mankind is relegated to only fourteen major cities across the globe, each with makeshift barriers keeping the spreading tumors at bay. And evidence suggests those fortifications will soon be breached by the growing terrestrial malignancy. 

The National Institute Entangle Advancements has overcome funding shortfalls and political rhetoric in their research for curing the global cancer. It involves launching tested and qualified individuals into alternate realities. There, these astronauts have undisclosed objectives which, when achieved, will save their world. But it’s almost certainly a suicide mission, and it’s been exactly that for the first crews who attempt a process not yet perfected by the N.E.A. scientists and technicians, led by Director Beverly Engle. None of their brave candidates have survived the alternate reality insertion phase. 

With only one attempt left, mankind’s fate is left to a trio of volunteers taking on the perilous duty. Each have motivations beyond the high stakes, mostly noble ones which speak to the human spirit of bravery in the face of disaster. Altruistic willingness to risk their existence for survival of the planet and its people may be best embodied in the candidate Douglas. But will he get the chance, and will Mission Control be able to crack the reality barrier in time? 

Patrick hits all the right marks for a title launch with this issue, and narrative investment is deeply anchored by the final panel. He’s sketchy on the details of both planetary ailment and its diagnosed cure, but the spirit of camaraderie and even humor shown between the volunteers despite their dire circumstances is captivating. From what we know of those who have dared the frontiers of space, some who have gambled and lost in its exploration, the spirit conjured in the dialogue and relationships tracks as accurate. These men and women are humans at their flawed, snarky, funny, hopeful, can-do, courageous best.   

Equally compelling is the concern and responsibility for them as reflected in Beverly. A better part of this first issue is seeing the email exchanges between her and her superiors. They begin with concerns couched in civility. In light of growing information about the seriousness of the crises, and as political deflection of it increases, the civility becomes strained and is finally discarded in lieu of a final, colorful dietary suggestion Bev makes for her boss.  We feel her. 

The lettering of Carlos M. Mangual for this portion of the issue adds to the realism of an unfolding global catastrophe, communicated via official channels in the mundane form of everyday emails. The calming contents turning caustic within the utilitarian framework we’d use for a typical greeting somehow injects its own narrative horror. 

Artist Rubine and colorist Valentina Briški create a unified, glowing collaboration capturing the beauty inherent in the extremely detailed launch chambers, the view of Earth from orbit, and even in the destructive force slowly dooming the human race. Both are allowed multiple large panels and full pages to sow their aesthetic bounty and the book is the better for each one. 

The beauty of Astronaut Down #1 is in its presentation but also its portrait of human nobility under extreme duress and its crisp, well-paced writing which validates the creative team’s approach. Readers wanting harder speculative details about the global dilemma or alternate universes may feel slightly cheated, but few will resist the perilous situation and the protagonists holding the line against it. Fewer still will miss parallels between this speculative fiction and events happening outside their reading room windows. As in real life, if humanity prevails we should hope zealots and ambitious politicos scrambling to capitalize on our reprieve won’t overshadow the real heroes of the story. 

AfterShock Comics / $4.99 
Written by James Patrick.
Art by Rubine.
Colors by Valentina Briški.
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual.

Astronaut Down #1 is in stores now. Issue #2 drops July 6. For purchasing information, click this.