Outer Darkness #1
Written by John Layman
Art by Afu Chan
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by Image Comics / Skybound Entertainment
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
In the backmatter for tomorrow’s Outer Darkness #1, writer John Layman describes the series as a “long, strange journey, in the furthest, weirdest, and most strange and horrifying corners of the known universe, and then beyond.” Featuring a spaceship crew populated by aliens, demons, and ghosts, Outer Darkness is a gorgeous, cinematic sci-fi adventure, an immersive trip into something weird and eerie that promises a little of everything in its striking debut: gods and monsters, intrigue and subterfuge, and plenty of strange mysteries to unravel.
Three weeks after diverting a disastrous, demonically derailed mission, Captain Joshua Riggs is facing a mutiny trial that could destroy his career. But when Riggs is offered the opportunity to clear his name in exchange for one last into the treacherous Outer Darkness, the disgraced captain and his Voodoo priest second-in-command Agwe seize this opportunity to dive into the breach, hopefully to escape the scandals of their past. And that’s the warp engine that keeps Outer Darkness running on all cylinders - when a desperate man, a Sumerian god, and a criminal with a death sentence fly into the outer reaches of space, what could possibly go wrong?
Outer Darkness is an incredible collaborative effort between Layman and artist Afu Chan, whose art defines everything eerie and off-putting about the supernatural setting. The universe of Outer Darkness is rife with far-future technology, but Chan’s angular illustrations make it feel familiar and somewhat timeless. The design touches - a captain’s throwback coat, a simple vest and hoodie, massive space stations based on iconic architecture - and the relatable, distinct character voices of Layman’s writing keep the sweeping story grounded amidst the more surreal elements.
Layman and Chan throw readers deep into the middle of a weird world in a way that never gets overwhelming. Layman never overloads pages with written exposition, and Chan has a strong grasp on this world, filling every page with little touches that say something about the characters or the environment, from Captain Joshua Rigg’s popped-collar jacket (instantly reminiscent of hot-shot aviators across countless pieces of media) to the little touches of background characters’ distinct hair and even just their body language, standing still in a fleeting panel. Even in this debut issue, the world of Outer Darkness feels fully realized.
Chan’s art keeps the genre-bending elements of the story well-balanced as well. A story about space demons tips pretty quickly into horror, and Layman and Chan gleefully embrace it in all its projectile-vomiting, demon-feeding glory. But Chan’s darker palette, often tinged with eerie greens and shadowy blues, does double-duty, giving everything a deep space far-future vibe while maintaining a subtle, unsettling sense of dread throughout every page. The story is cinematic in scope, but also in visuals; a panel of Riggs framed in a doorway, lit from above by the urgent glow of a vibrant red emergency siren, is an iconic sci-fi/horror silhouette and beautifully executed. The book is profoundly creepy, and though there are some very unsettling elements of body horror (namely the designs of the space ghosts), they’re never so ghoulishly illustrated as to be off-putting to folks who prefer less gore in their horror tales.
Outer Darkness has a little of everything - military drama, mystery, horror, giant monster space shipship engines, baby-faced ghouls plowing through the dark void of the universe. Afu Chan and John Layman have delivered an impressive debut issue (complete with an extremely cool logo by Andres Juarez) that manages to be a little bit of a lot of things, brought together in a cohesive and engrossing world populated with captivating characters and compelling drama.