By Brendan Hodgdon. We’re experiencing a period of great change in comicdom as publishers scramble to win over demographics they’ve long ignored. In this latest struggle for supremacy over the spinner racks, Image is particularly well-positioned. Their creator-first approach allows them to play with a wide variety of genres and styles comfortably, and serves as a great platform to myriad creative voices. It also doesn’t hurt that they have a collection of in-house studios with their own identities and approaches either. It’s the confluence of these elements that has led to Skybound releasing its first YA comic book, the earnest and stylish Outpost Zero.
Of course, it’s not just that Outpost Zero is emblematic of the industry’s major trends that make it notable. There’s also the return of star writer Sean McKeever, he of the highly-regarded Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane among many others. After stepping away from comics and working in video games, he’s exchanged the sometimes-fickle demands of the Big Two for a new canvas of his own. And if you’ve enjoyed McKeever’s teen-centric work in the past, this series should be right up your alley (and will hopefully lead new readers to his past successes). Aided by the killer art team of Alexandre Tefenkgi, Jean-Francois Beaulieu and Ariana Maher, McKeever has made a very agreeable return.
In this over-sized first issue, the creative team introduce us to a solitary outpost stranded on an ice planet, cut off from the rest of humanity and trying to eke out an existence. We follow a collection of teens as they prepare to take their places among the outpost’s caretakers on the cusp of a potentially catastrophic weather event. And based on what’s set up in this debut, it has the potential to be a resonant coming-of-age tale.
Written by Sean Kelley McKeever.
Art by Alexandre Tefenkgi.
Colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letters by Ariana Maher.
Youth & Angst. The ideas that McKeever is exploring revolve primarily around the existential angst that many young folks encounter as they take their first steps to adulthood. Through his various characters, and with the help of his heightened genre concept, McKeever explores the notion of trying to find one’s place in the world. Furthermore, he uses the metaphorical nature of his setting to consider the different ways, both optimistic and nihilistic, that people approach the future. We see the main group of characters, led by the duo of Alea and Steven, grapple with the legacies of their parents, the expectations of their society, and what good they might be able to do in the world around them.
These elements are blended in the same blurry, messy sprawl that anyone who has ever been a teenager can identify with. In the process, our protagonists have to confront how their immediate future pales in the face of perpetual near-doom, and must find a way to carry on towards an increasingly-precarious adulthood. What’s more, the different paths that Alea and Steven are on bring them into conflict in a way that is predictable but understandable. It’s these relatable emotional beats that keep the reader invested, and set the stage well for subsequent issues.
Bang for Your Buck. This debut issue clocks in at a whopping 41 story pages, and McKeever and the art team make the most of that extra space. Between the extended length and the quick pacing of the script, they pack a lot in here, which gives them the opportunity to fully explore the aforementioned themes and their characters. This is a big reason why the mission statement of Outpost Zero feels so clear already.
Beyond the page count, the art on those pages stands out as a real selling point. What’s most interesting about Tefenkgi’s approach here is that his worldbuilding is fairly basic — the specifics of the outpost’s technology and design don’t leave much of an impression after the fact. Where Tefenkgi places the most emphasis is on his characters, who are all given clear identities and are wonderfully expressive. The teen angst of McKeever’s script is realized well in Tefenkgi’s designs, and having this level of effort on the character side of the art is nice to see. This is only furthered by Beaulieu’s colors, which involve lots of blues and purples to suggest the icy, morose reality these kids are hoping to survive.
Tundra’s The Limit. Based on what is established here in the early going, McKeever & Co. have a lot of material to work with as the story progresses. The character dynamics amongst the kids (and with their parents) are familiar in an engaging, comfortable way, and it’s easy to imagine the different conflicts that could come from them. There are just enough hints at the larger mythology beyond the immediate survival story that suggest mystery and danger. While the pacing of the issue is somewhat gradual and deliberate, the thoughtfulness and thoroughness behind it should pay dividends down the line.
Even beyond the character and narrative threads that are laid out in this issue, it’s the thematic ground that’s being covered so far that is most intriguing. It feels like Outpost Zero is really picking at the existential scabs that lie at the heart of all coming-of-age stories. But thanks to the specifics of the world and the characters, it feels much more emotionally harrowing and intense than one might expect. Indeed, if the creative team follows through on what is being set up here, it could approach Harry Potter or Hunger Games in terms of thematic weight.
Outpost Zero #1 is an issue that rewards extra attention and consideration. It is measured and deep in the traditions of the best YA storytelling, while still having an impact that adult readers should be able to appreciate. It’s worth as many looks as you can give it.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this five-page preview of ‘Outpost Zero’ #1, courtesy of Image Comics!