Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Courtney Ryan. “We can see the medley symphony another time,” shouts Perla, space goddess and captain of a planetary outpost, who is seen fending off a mutant invasion while fighting with her boyfriend about how they never go to the theater together.
This is Astral, a sci-fi fantasy rom-com that marries the mundanity of dating with the trope of star-crossed lovers caught in an intergalactic battle. The result is a story that’s equal parts cliché and crisp adventure.
Writer Alex Chung has made more than a few disjointed parallels while marketing Astral. It’s Van Morrison meets Grant Morrison. Jerry Maguire meets Thor. A love letter to Jack Kirby and Cameron Crowe. If you’re struggling to imagine the Hulk feebly uttering “you had me at ‘hello’” you’re not alone, but Chung wades right into the cross-genre campiness on the first page alongside a gloomy Prince Eron, who whines to his warrior girlfriend that if she would just put down her weapon they might make the last hour of the show.
Flung to the far reaches of a distant solar system, Perla and Eron call the planet Siorlasar home. Their ruler is Eron’s father, King Klevos, a pragmatic guy who sympathizes with his son’s dilemma, but not enough to sacrifice his best captain in order to end a devastating long-distance relationship. Much to Eron’s immature dismay, Perla fights for her king and will go anywhere to serve him and destroy his enemies, even if it means losing contact with her boyfriend for at least six months. It’s unclear why these tortured lovers are even together, but that doesn’t bother Chung so we can’t let it bother us. Astral is here for the ride, not the character development.
Though Chung’s characters aren’t particularly novel, they’re spirited enough to carry the story. A plot involving a working woman whose dude just doesn’t get how much she has to juggle to be successful goes from painfully real to comical when her work entails slicing apart one-eyed swamp aliens under the orders of her boyfriend’s father. Meanwhile, Prince Eron’s romantic gestures and lovesick sentiments of rejection become sappy and trivial when compared to a larger enemy who literally requires the manipulation of time and space to be defeated.
Astral is Chung’s second collaboration with artist Louie Joyce, who handles both the illustration and coloring duties here. (Their first being a short called “Buckets”.) In Astral, Joyce splashes Siorlasar’s sparse landscape with washed-out pastels, burnt grays, and muted neons. The resulting palette delivers the orange-teal hue that has become ubiquitous in science fiction cinema these days, but he follows Chung off the genre’s characteristic path by drawing Perla, Eron, and their fellow patriots as medieval French soldiers who look like they’d be more at home in a jousting match than on a distant planet.
Even if it’s just bubblegum, there’s a lot to chew up in Astral. It’s the kind of romantic adventure that appeals to fans of sappy love stories and blooper reels alike. Chung happily embraces the cheeky rom-com aspects of his story without sacrificing the bloodbaths or world building that the intergalactic saga requires. As a love story and space caper, the appeal of Astral is simple: It dazzles with eye-catching details and a wonderful sense of humor.
Written by Alex Chung.
Illustrated and colored by Louie Joyce.
Lettered by Troy Peteri.