Writer: Johanna Stokes
Artist: Leno Carvalho
Space may be the final frontier, but not even 220 miles above terra firma is enough distance from man’s baser instinct to break the Sixth Commandment. Just when I was convinced that there might actually be a purity akin to Heaven way up there and that yes, Rodney, we all can get along somewhere, Johanna Stokes goes ahead and pulls the rug out from under me with her carefully scripted mystery yarn filled with adventure, wonder, and yes, cold-blooded murder.
Our guide in this little romp of astral crime noir is Dyson, a shucks-gosh-Ah’ve-always-wanted-t’go-inta-space boy scout type who gets a lift on a shuttle flight courtesy of the space tourism program. He and three other astronauts are bound for the space station where they are to rendezvous and complete their Benetton union with the current residents. One member is out on an untethered space walk to repair a wonky solar panel when tragedy strikes. Clues are laid out throughout the issue like breadcrumbs and by the end we’ve got ourselves a victim, an enclosed space, and seven suspects. It’s Agatha Christie meets Ray Bradbury (with a dash of “The Thing”) and I’m already upset that it’s only going to be four issues long.
The first issue is actually one of the best looking books BOOM! has ever put out. Leno Carvalho packs each frame with detail, and I don’t mean just squiggles or dashes to indicate features. Take a look at page three for instance, with the astronauts packed into the shuttle and all the switches, toggles, knobs, and buttons that Leno takes care to incorporate. His space walk scene alone should be nominated for an Eisner (do they nominate scenes for Eisners? Well, they should.). On page five he manages to capture the beauty and exoticism of being in space, then steadily unravels it and turns the experience cold and solitary, until on pages eight and nine a double-page spread lays bare the meaning of true terror and hopelessness.
While this issue was a very good set-up for the series, I wish Stokes hadn’t gone with the obligatory plays in the handbook for space stories. I’m referring to Dyson’s narrative about how space was all he ever wanted, and later, post-tragedy, when the shuttle captain waxes nostalgic over a picture of his wife. It reads formulaic and I think it would have deepened the mystery if these character moments occurred as the story unfolded as opposed to stacking the deck so obviously and early on.
I also found it interesting that the tragedy itself plays out over five pages (taut and well-paced, I might add) and yet the critical decision by the crew is determined in a space of two panels. It happens too fast and stretches the bands of disbelief beyond their physiological limits. Scratching Dyson’s pages of soliloquy would have freed up space to ratchet the scene’s tension between crew and commander to eleven and make it more believable. Later, there’s a moment of unintended humor when Dyson takes a page to talk about the rigorous NASA training they had to go through and how they were taught to plan for, anticipate, and avoid crises. Apparently they were all absent the day they taught negotiating malfunction during an untethered EVA.
Those hiccups aside (as well as the far-too-easily found piece of evidence that one would need X-ray vision to see from that particular vantage) this was an enjoyable book. It is obvious that time and consideration was put into achieving particular effects and establishing a thriller’s pacing. The result is a comfortable and satisfying duet between artist and writer that fans of science fiction, mystery, and even noir will find rewarding.