THIS REVIEW OF ‘BLACK STARS ABOVE’ #1-3 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Lauren Fernandes. There is an interesting, unexplored place of beginning that threads itself through daily life, if we pause long enough to see that thread. It is a fearful chord, binding the in-between spaces of each moment with doubt, fear, and longing.
Vault Comics’ Black Stars Above is a daunting, frigid horror series that marries dutifully well-researched historical fiction with the terror of constantly being on the precipice of the unknown. Writer Lonnie Nadler has crafted a world that dances, always, on the edge of becoming and coming undone. Nadler’s story follows protagonist Eulalie, a Métis-French girl, yearning for more than the dying fur trade that is her family’s living, more than the arranged marriage her father wishes to force on her, more than the wild Canadian landscape that is all she has known. Eulalie, strapped with the intense competence that growing up in such a harsh landscape has gifted her and infected with the intense naivety of being raised in isolation, journeys into the Canadian wilderness in an effort to escape a fate chosen for her.
Eulalie narrates the story directly in a series of letters, and her epistolary is a unique choice for comics, one that aligns the reader instantly and closely with the protagonist. Nadler’s choice here is brilliant—it simultaneously keeps the period of the piece in close call, while showing every moment of doubt and fear as it crosses Eulalie’s mind. Scratched out words and sentences, lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, create confusion in the reader that matches Eulalie’s as she tries to understand the cosmic horrors of the frozen land that seems to be herding, chasing, toying with her.
I constantly feel at Eulalie’s side. I feel the weight of her stress, it tenses my shoulders as it tenses hers. My brow furrows in distrust, in grim acceptance, as do hers. I’m in the deep, freezing moments of silence in the Canadian wilderness along with her and we wait for whatever it is that is coming for us. My confusion elevates along with hers as the environment mutates, changes, recreates itself.
This side-along distress begins with the letter-writing that Nadler uses to let us in, and is magnified fantastically by an art team that clearly went all in to create this mood. Jenna Cha’s scratchy, hatched drawings depict the anxiety and unknowing that permeates the series. A smattering of beautiful wilderness drawings are offset by unsettling imagery of dead animals, a cast of manic-looking fur trappers, and a black entity that reaches out through the pages to claim you as its own. Brad Simpson then meets this brilliant art with coloring that brings it to slow, creeping life. Simpson’s restraint with color lifts the story off the pages, allows it to enter unwelcome in your mind, never lets it become cartoonish or garish.
Black Stars Above is a story that leaves space for your wildly ill-equipped brain to try and fill in the gaps, to make sense of things, to understand. It is a combination of survival horror, with Eulalie navigating a land that seems more like a trap than a destination, and the cosmic terror of trying to make sense of things that are beyond human understanding. It is a Sisyphean-like challenge that, at least in the first three books, Eulalie and I are incapable of escaping.
Turning page after page, my unease increases. My fear for her spreads down to my cold fingertips. My need to understand grows, and it is never satisfied. Eulalie, and all of us, are trapped in waiting. Our only option is to continue on, to whatever fate has chosen for us.
Vault Comics / $3.99 each
Written by Lonnie Nadler.
Art by Jenna Cha.
Colors by Brad Simpson.
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
8 out of 10
Check out this 3-page preview of ‘Black Stars Above’ #3, courtesy of Vault Comics!