Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Outer Darkness’ #1, out November 7 from Skybound and Image Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘OUTER DARKNESS’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Arpad Okay. Take something fundamentally messed up — dark and lost and maybe a little evil — and make it beautiful. Not cute. Gorgeous. In Outer Darkness, the colors, the fashion, the very texture of the pages, it’s lovely. As lovely as puke and disembowelment and mutiny can get. Outer Darkness is that dream of space at its full potential. It isn’t the autoclave utopia, nor the vast emptiness between stars. It’s the world people build to push things forward.
Despite the odds. Space is a haunted mess, though what do you expect from John Layman? Outer Darkness is science fiction through and through but heavy duty horror movie action is ready and waiting in the wings, peppered with Evil Dead humor/humour. Possession and cosmic ghosts are the norm. Spaceships run on the energy of Gods, and Gods run on living oblation.
This might be rote for most, more a matter of paperwork than morality, but the specters of the past keep Captain Joshua Rigg humble (when he isn’t disobeying orders to save the ship). Rigg bears witness to sacrifice to get his crew there and back again. To make sure everything goes right when committing acts of terrible wrong.
Rigg’s world is ablaze with the allure of the high seas, and the danger of what lurks in depths unknowable. The ocean full of magic and mystery, not the length of the journey; all the richness that can be found in space, not the gaping maw of the void. Not yet. Instead, Roddenberry. The bridge. The bar. The brig. Sailors. Cultural exchange. Romance.
Our Captain should be on his ass. Instead he’s bonded, head of the ship he came up on, one of the many he’s been thrown off of. Ready to brave the cursed stretches of the infinite unknown to rescue a financial investment no one else will touch, and maybe rescue his lost love as well.
Rigg. Agwe. Prakash. A refreshingly culturally diverse crew, with aliens in the mix because space, not as minority placeholders. But check it: even in an incalculably complicated future, qualified people of color are constantly getting second-guessed. When the Gods are treated with the commonplace expectation of subservience afforded the microwave and telephone, when the power is infinite, few comprehend the price. Life is cheap, and respect is cheaper.
Outer Darkness has the look. Ships, space stations, uniforms, fashion and tech that all occupy an impossible mix that feels both ripped straight from pulp paperback covers and starkly modern, like what’s dreamt of tomorrow, the bleeding edge meets Cleopatra Jones.
The folks who aren’t human look like bipeds with fish heads, or amphibians, natural but still alien. The folks who are human look like port people do. Their clothes, their tattoos, the body language in how they carry themselves. And the gods? The ghosts? Heavy metal.
Afu Chan draws one of the coolest looking books Skybound has released.
The colors are inspired. The artificial lights, planets, stars, the screens, everything glows. Space whips by in rainbow streaks. The textural finish Chan puts on the pages is a glorious newsprint throwback. The spidery clouds of digital watercolor. He is simply breathtaking.
Pat Brosseau’s lettering is a real get. The title cards have a future feel, like when computers get away from pixels. The aliens get a variety of scripts to give their inhuman voices unearthly tones, replete with color speech bubbles. The bug guy is white on red with a samurai slash. Galactic standard, black on white, has flex, spring, and clarity. No outline on the balloons lands just right with the riso print feel of Afu Chan’s artwork.
So Layman, Chan, and Brosseau have come together to make a monster of a debut. Genre crossing, yes, yet seriously sci fi. But. Melville, Matsumoto, the sea holds its sway with the story as well. Most people think D&D when you talk Jack Vance comparisons, but the man was merchant marine. Outer Darkness is on the Cugel’s Saga tip, bursting with the legacy of fantastic voyage and with the promise of the new. Aesthetically on point and literarily inspired, diverse, and much needed.
Written by John Layman.
Illustrated by Afu Chan.
Lettered by Pat Brosseau.
8 out of 10
‘Outer Darkness’ #1 hits stores November 7.