Cover to ‘Outer Darkness Vol. 1: Each Other’s Throats’ TPB. Art: Afu Chan/Image Comics

by Arpad Okay. Outer Darkness, a book of literal demons and the logical minds that make deals with them. Sharply dressed madmen. The femme fatale is a ghost that drives a captain off the map, whose haste is paid in the blood of the future. Part war story told from the bridge of a smuggler’s last run. Part fantasy in that the empty stretches of space are as teeming with ghosts as the ocean was with life and, worse yet, man would reach out into the cosmos to meet them.

Space is doom, haunted, full of every type of monster, god, and demon. But we race to touch the stars anyhow, meddle despite the danger. John Layman has written a Western angle into his book. The people suited to explore badlands are skilled, weathered, outsiders not homesteaders. Protectors who cannot belong. Honestly, you can expect to find traces of any and every genre in this book.

To fly through deadly void requires the subjugation of evil gods. An ancient deity forced to be the grindstone that turns the stars, the engine for a star cruiser, fed on living sacrifice. Torture and ritual murder are a matter of security clearance and paperwork. Dark Materials theocracy and Outer Darkness martial rituals, both balance the supernatural and bureaucracy, both reveal the severity and cruelty the system finds acceptable.

On the other hand, when freed, these victims of tyranny kill without mercy. Do you deserve to be shot into the sun if it helps save future babies? The austerity of the ship, those clean spaceship lines lead down down into the pit. The world runs on the exploitation of beings, evil or no. Kept in cages, made to power their captors’ war against their peers.

Outer Darkness is unapologetically a war story, but done in that Image way, a war seen from the perspective of a single pair of boots. And, while he bucks the system and does things his way and puts his crew first, Captain Rigg is getting done for the navy what it can’t do for itself. Unquestionably an adventure. One last run. Doesn’t matter who it benefits, as long as Rigg gets what he needs while he’s out there.

Retro influence: It’s written as something to sit beside the classics, not in their shadow. A maritime quest, space-sea is dangerous to cross. Layman’s story feels like a blend of Gene Roddenberry politics and Jack Vance magic combat. Not blasters but science magic keeping nightmares at bay.

Afu Chan’s aesthetic fits. Informed by Voltron and other vintage manned-spaceship manga, stylish uniforms clashing against the idea of a pirate ship in space. Ghosts in the cargo hold. Shin smiling and bloody in a candlelit mirror with a sea of demons.

Gods and monsters look like heavy metal album covers. Chan’s work has a major Adult Swim vibe. Hanna-Barbera’s grittiest possible timeline. Outer Darkness is so over the top it belongs in 2000 AD, running next to Scarlet Traces. Lawless, reckless science fiction.

Chan’s process on color and finishes lays a retro soft curtain of color between story and reader, pulp paperback visual fakeout. Interesting given his love for and skill with dynamic lighting. Not a book of shadows, but contrast coming from brightness. But no page ever reaches the absolute clarity of the speech bubbles.

Pat Brosseau’s lettering is just beautiful. A world with a lot of rules and a lot of intelligent, complex characters pushing it to its limits requires a lot of dialog, thought, words, letters. Brosseau’s style is upscale, the font on a pocket watch. Clear. Elegant. Flexible with alien voices and ancient alphabets.

The language Brosseau prints and Layman pens is hedonism. Outer Darkness is saucy and suave. Sailors put their lives on the line, they live it to the fullest in action and out. High function during danger requires heavy duty release. Think M.A.S.H.

People can say fuck, and do, and mutilate and torture, real Angelheart gone Berserk shit. The spaceship has a cat on it, you know that’s trouble. They’re on a rescue mission beyond enemy lines. Beyond all lines. Getting there is the thing.

Nice, episodic storytelling that shifts focus between different crew members with each issue—or so it seems. Setting the pieces in place for longer stories, seeds of psychological thriller horror. Layman ties it off with the promise that the closer they get to their destination the weirder the ride will be. Outer Darkness makes it a dance.

Image Comics / $16.99

Written by John Layman.

Illustrated by Afu Chan.

Lettered by Pat Brosseau.

8 out of 10

Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Outer Darkness Vol. 1: Each Other’s Throats’ TPB, courtesy of Image Comics!