Mystery in Space #1 has a beautiful cover by Ryan Sook, evoking celestial wonder.
As for the rest of the book, the only wonder is that someone thought it was fit to publish as a $7.99, 80pp giant. For while the revived Silver Age one-off hosts a few decently written and drawn stories with an intriguing idea or two, much of the material proved a slog to get through.
It’s bullet point time …
- Verbinsky* doesn’t appreciate it by Duane Swierczynski and Ramon Bachs: A man kidnapped by extradimensional aliens and kitted out with a cybernetic arm to fight a war isn’t adjustng to being back on Earth. There’s a twist, and it’s not a bad one, but to get to it we have to spend time with unlikeable bit players swearing unnecessarily – yup, we’re in a cutting edge Vertigo book, folks. At one point someone shouts ‘Scoats’ randomly. I have no idea what that might mean. The art features a lot of grimacing, and people have dirty lines on their noses and blotches on their hair, which may be Manga-esque or it may be lack of an eraser. *Or ‘Verbinksy’, if you’re laying out the title page.
- Transmission by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice: Connecting to the cover, here’s a tale in which the tense relationship between humans and their AI supposed servants takes a new turn. Star of the show is an ambassador who may have to end the lives of 40 billion beings to stop a plague spreading. The last line’s awfully corny, but this is a smart, enjoyable short. It makes me want to see more SF strips from Diggle, one-time editor of 2000AD. The art is wonderfully clean and expressive, with Gianfelice managing to make a conversation between woman and machine look as tense as it reads.
- Asleep to see you by Ming Doyle: This features a delightfully clever punning scene transition, but overall this tale of a woman abandoning a less-than-perfect relationship to become a space stewardess isn’t my cup of tea. The optimistic ending is sweet but the journey is soporific, which given the protaganist’s long space sleep is either irony or genius. Doyle’s script and art complement one another well but the pervading air of melancholy – which may be intended – isn’t for me.
- Here nor there by Ann Nocenti and Fred Harper: There’s another troubled relationship here, but no escape for the married undersea explorers involved. Or at least, there isn’t until they come across an ET which bends the laws of science. What might have been interesting is made intolerable by Nocenti’s cutesie-clever dialogue, a maguffin that’s a-too-obvious metaphor and the fact that one leading character is a vicious bitch, the other an effete loon… you can’t believe for one minute that these two ever got together. I rather like Harper’s art, as he gives Armand and Heidi distinctive, expressive faces rather than Male Head A and Female Head A, and he gives great pussy cat.
- The Elgort by Nnedi Okorafor and Michael Wm. Kaluta: A jungle explorer who can fly tracks walking whale-thingie the Elgort, chats to her talking necklace, and is perhaps killed by an alien ship or an omniverous plant or smugness. I dunno – I swear a page dropped off in the production process, as the strip just stops with nary an END. Okorafor’s script is breezy in parts but our journey with ‘windseeker’ Ifeoma is slowed considerably by unnecessary extracts from her field guide. And Jared K Fletcher’s sudden fondness for faffy fonts doesn’t help either, as narration fights field guides fights necklace and nobody wins. And if the ‘ending’ is indeed the intended end, both writer Okorafor and editor Joe Hughes should be fed to a mutant cactus for crimes against clarity. Comics legend Kaluta produces typically attractive art, beautifully coloured by Eva De La Cruz; it really does seem as if we’re on another world.
- Breeching by Steve Orlando and Francesco Trifogli: This would be the Young Adult section of the comic, as half-horse, half-human teens endure a ritual, drug-induced battle against their divided selves and fall in love, with a love bite apparently a marker of new freedoms. To be honest, apart from the fight sequence this is unintelligible, and Orlando loses points for calling his characters ‘fauns’ when they’re patently ‘centaurs’. Trifogli’s art is attractive – clear and nicely paced.
- Contact High by Bob Rodi and Sebastian Fiumara: A gay threesome in space comes to a sticky end via the ultimate orgasm. With a confident, smart script by Rodi and masterly art by Fiumara, this is one of MiS’s better stories, though the ‘insert stripping hunk here’ moment is boringly blatant. Still, the last panel is everything The Elgart’s isn’t – a definitive climax.
- The Dream Pool by Kevin McCarthy and Kyle Baker: Explorers from two worlds join forces to investigate a ‘tree of life’ and an academic discovers the lengths she’ll go to in order to produce a career-making paper. Well, kudos to McCarthy for giving us this comic’s only actual mystery in space, as three big questions require answering. And well done on catching me out with the ending. Nice one Kyle Baker, for some wonderfully wacky artwork based on McCarthy’s layouts. Yup, I liked the script, I relished the art … but blimey, they don’t mesh. The story’s basically serious, but the art is a thing of whimsy. Perhaps the disparity between the two approaches is meant to make the ending all the more dramatic; rather, it distracts throughout.
- Alpha meets Omega by Mike and Laura Allred: A man dies but his end is also the beginning. This is lovely to look at but the hippy-trippy central idea is a tad passe for a comic supposedly looking to the future.
And there you have it, a collection of shorts with individually good elements, but rarely blending into a satisfying whole. This book had me longing for a straightforward Adam Strange or Captain Comet story, full of talking gorillas and puzzles to be solved. Yes, I’m living in days of future past, but if Vertigo is going to update an old DC title, why not hew a little closer to the original material?