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. This week, Matthew recommends the first four issues of ‘The Fourth Planet’, a stunning new sci-fi series from Chapterhouse Comics.
By Matthew C. Brown. Deep in humanity’s interstellar future, scanning the void of the unknown, our eyes fall upon the seed of a complex new vision. A world where mankind has learned the hard way that it is not the superior being it once claimed to be. There are other cunning, prideful species out there, with their own mythologies that cannot be taken lightly. With The Fourth World, Fred Kennedy and Miko Maciaszek have borrowed the best elements from the greatest science fictions of today and synthesized something truly unique and riveting.
Captain Duchek has liberated his human colony from slavery from The Tythyk Empire, an entity that has enslaved another human colony that Duchek aims to free. But before that can happen the Captain and his crew are forced onto an unknown planet for repairs and to obtain a new power source. It’s not long before Duchek and his crew find that they are not alone on this planet: two civilizations, the Foon and the Yultan, reside there; the Yultan having liberated themselves from enslavement by the Foon some time ago, are in the midst of their own conflict. Kennedy and Maciaszek switch between the three species’ narratives as tensions come to a head.
The art in this series is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time simply because it fits the world so flawlessly. Stylistically, Miko Maciaszek at once conveys a sense of the old world myths and fables and a sleek, new world of sci-fi technology and alien societies. The art reminds me of certain Japanese tapestries with its wispy impressionism, coupled with overcast, foggy watercolor landscapes which are broken and sliced by shocks of bright orange and pink. Maciaszek’s storybook visual style and Kennedy’s narrative firmly planted in our actual human universe create a harmony that deserves our immediate applause and attention.
Each book begins with a crawl set against the backdrop of space, very much like what you’d see in Star Wars. While the crawl in Star Wars is purely exposition designed to set the scene, each issue of this story begins with an excerpt from a current transmission or an old text that helps to place the reader on a timeline of multiple histories. These fictional texts and transmissions are important to note as they’re the only documents that are quoted in the story –except for one that sticks out like a sore thumb.
In the middle of the second book there is a seemingly out-of-place quotation from none other than Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the black abolitionist scholar who escaped slavery and worked in favor of his people’s liberation. The quote is from a speech Douglass gave on July 5th, 1852: “For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
This quote is not out of place thematically, as one can draw clear parallels between Douglass and the character Duchek as men working toward their people’s liberation — but it did make me pause and note the directness of the comparison, and the sudden placement of real human slavery juxtaposed against this fictional narrative. This makes me hopeful that, as this story unfolds, its creators will not shy away from speaking to the woes and horror of slavery, the woes that are and have been the seed of our undoing.
The Fourth Planet is a world of mythological proportions. We are witness to what may be the beginnings of a vast universe and narrative that is full, not only of potential but of real historical context and circumstance. When you’re scanning the cosmos for your next sci-fi romp, make sure you don’t miss this planet, distant yet distinct.
Written by Fred Kennedy.
Art by Miko Maciaszek.