Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book we just can’t seem to get enough of. This week Arpad recommends the collected edition of ‘Satellite Falling’, out now from IDW Publishing.

Cover to 'Satellite Falling' TPB. Art by Stephen Thompson and Lisa Jackson/IDW Publishing

Cover to ‘Satellite Falling’ TPB. Art by Stephen Thompson and Lisa Jackson/IDW Publishing

By Arpad Okay. Satellite Falling might look like a Luc Besson venture remixed with National Geographic, but in truth the story being told is straight hard-boiled crime. The trappings are shiny and new. They scream space (or at least Métal Hurlant). The bones of the book are flatfoot gumshoe. Cocky criminals, a femme fatale or two (one of them doubling as the chief of police), and there’s Lilly, the brash antihero. Quick with a blaster, faster with a solid con, heart of gold.

Lilly may be the only human on Satellite, but the megacity that floats above Earth could just as easily be San Francisco, 1929. She’s a freelancer, an amicable merc who works with the cops, backed into a corner to bust a crime ring. She’s hot-wiring flying cars. Getting her information at gunpoint. The only man she can trust is the bartender — if you can call that a man. The crime ring leads to personal stakes, a love thought lost tied up in evil deeds. And then things start getting really twisty.

Satellite is a pulp planet of criminals, precincts, street bars, taxi drivers, and drug dens — human trappings run by humanoids. Alien adages that have Earthly parallels. One purple sloth-looking gentleman even has a mustache. This is no mistake. The aliens are supposed to feel human. They have friendships that matter, talent and pride and arrogance. They make promises and keep them.

Can you navigate an alien story without tackling what it means to be human? Steve Horton can’t. Satellite exists because humans don’t want its residents on Earth. The rhetoric, the nationalism, the xenophobia, it’s all present in Satellite Falling, too, turning wheels inside wheels. If you’ve got a face that looks like melted goat instead of a man, that might make it easy for some to tie a noose around your neck. But Lilly? She sees a face.

Satellite Falling. It’s Philip K. Dick and it’s Dick Tracy.

Stephen Thompson, Martin Morazzo, and Austin Janowsky bring the style and outlandish fantasy of Satellite Falling to stunning life. Lilly is a popped-collar sexpot dressed up like Buck Rogers in a world of Hieronymous Bosch sea creatures with too many teeth. It’s a nigh Darrow-ian world of details, crowded with texture, devices with infinite settings and as many buttons and switches, impossible architecture. A Transmetropolitan urban sprawl with more tech and less junkies, TV screens, and shit. To create the world of Satellite, Thompson and Morazzo had to be incredibly flexible. Art that is clear, beautiful, organic and alien, synthetic. Not of our world but still recognizable, believable. Stylish. Astonishing. And they did.

The magnificent color work of Lisa Jackson and Alex Lozano help separate the layers of detail. One palette for the characters, one slightly more muted for the inside of the room, a third color wash to separate what you see through the windows. The pages are busy without overwhelming the eye. The people speaking or fighting or drinking or screwing are vivid, extremely present on the page, and they transfer their livelihood to their immediate surroundings. The set pieces they interact with solidify with their attention. Beyond, a busy background waits, cradling them in visual context while standing aside in its colors.

That’s the work of artists who know their craft. A full-body quasi-holographic disguise boots up around a bounty hunter, still translucent. A cloaking device on a ship turns the whole thing semi-clear in a wave. The colorists working hand-in-glove with the illustrators enable bleeding-edge moments to depict futuristic visions.

Satellite Falling is a modern approach, a story about contemporary problems of fear and love and loyalty, but also a perennial pop culture pastiche. A pulp whodunit with noir tendencies. A space adventure with social science underpinnings. Swashbuckling combat. High romance. All these forms of storytelling are brought together to show that experience is the great unifier, that humanity isn’t the sole province of humans. Something about sentience. Something about empathy. Criminals who are still driven towards nobility. Satellite Falling is an argument that the shell on the outside is nothing compared to the spirit housed within. A tale of heroes.

IDW Publishing/$17.99

Written by Steve Horton.

Illustrated by Stephen Thompson and Martin Morazzo.

Inks by Stephen Thompson, Martin Morazzo, and Austin Janowsky.

Colors by Lisa Jackson and Alex Lozano.

Letters by Neil Uyetake.