Review by C.J. Bunce
It really comes down to one thing. Is the art of Ryan Sook, the superb cover artist for series like Justice League Dark, good enough to cause you to spend $7.99 for an 80-page comic book? Let’s come back to that.
As you may know, Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics, known for stories targeted at mature readers, including elements of stepped up violence, sexuality, horror and just plain controversial subjects not easily absorbed by the mainstream audience. Mystery in Space is a classic comic book series beginning in the 1950s, known for great sci-fi stories including stories featuring Adam Strange. Suspense and intrigue were key to the original series, and they often had the feel of Twilight Zone stories.
Along with titles like G.I. Combat and Worlds Finest, DC has been making the best of grabbing readers through a little bit of nostalgia, and the title and classic cover of the one-shot anthology Mystery in Space #1, in the style of the original 1950s series, is step one in reeling new readers in. As with short story anthologies, the challenge is whether a writer can really put together a narrative with a beginning, middle and end that can be compelling, exciting, and original, in just a few pages.
The new Mystery in Space is good. Good enough that it leaves the reader wanting more. Sure, not every entry in an anthology will be great or even good. That’s the beauty of an anthology–if it’s good there will be something for everyone. But there is no reason DC cannot continue churning out anthologies like this of classic themed sci-fi stories.
The book starts out with a bang, and the first story “Verbinksy Doesn’t Appreciate It” is a great story about a cyborg with an unwanted cybernetic arm and a classic storytelling session among typical guys in a bar. Written by Duane Swierczynski and illustrated by Ramon Bachs, the story blends alien abduction and The Matrix. Smart and dark, at 8 pages, Bachs conveys panic and emotion nicely.
Green Arrow: Year One and Adam Strange writer Andy Diggle joined forced with artist Davide Gianfelice on “Transmission.” Billions of lives are at stake in a Star Trek Voyager “Year of Hell” throwback, with a female ambassador taking on a computer that rules all like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Quick plot movement and a satisfying resolution highlight this as one of the best stories in the set, although it ends off the mark a bit. I’d love to see more books drawn by Bachs and Gianfelice. Gianfelice’s giant star map room is evocative of Data’s star room in Star Trek Generations.
Writer/artist Ming Doyle serves double duty on “Asleep to See You,” an account of two women pulled apart by time and space. At one level the life and times of a flight attendant of the future, it packs a surprising amount of emotion and delivers a classic Twilight Zone resolution of the happy ever after variety. A simple story, written in a simple style, Doyle proves you don’t need a lot of blatant sci-fi elements to have a successful sci-fi story.
Probably the weakest of the anthology is Ann Nocenti’s “Here Nor There,” which spends too much time with clever dialogue and not enough time with character development. Fred Harper’s unique style didn’t work for me, at least tied up with this story. Not awful, just one to read and then move on.
“The Elgort” is a story more fantasy than sci-fi, and I really liked the adventure story by writer Nnedi Okorafor and artist Michael Kaluta. Like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, it follows a girl flying across a strange land with varying levels of beastie threats. A little Avatar and a little Predator, this story has a cool feel and interesting voice.
Writer Steve Orlando provides a cool glimpse at a coming of age story for centaurs in some far away place in “Breeching.” Artist Francesco Trifogli illustrates a tale reflecting a culture not unlike Mr. Spock’s Vulcan race, struggling with the question “am I a man, or am I a horse?” Not a lot of resolution but themes of loyalty and conformity are well-played here.
Probably the most controversial of the bunch, “Contact High” covers a love triangle among three astronauts on a space mission, and the inevitable result when idle minds in tight quarters erupt against each other. A psychological mini-drama, Robert Rodi and Sebastian Fiumara tell their story effectively, with Fiumara’s art and need special effects renderings the better part of the team-up.
Kevin McCarthy and Kyle Baker’s “The Dream Pool” is full of action but the over-wordy story and big-eyed girl art put this at the bottom of the anthology. There’s probably a good story here but it feels like the creators would have been served by fleshing out the story and art better–it seems a bit rushed.
Sweeping colors, simple concepts and epic level weirdness puts Mike and Laura Allred’s “Alpha Meets Omega” among the best of Mystery in Space. Amazingly they deal, again in only a few pages, with the most heavy of concepts in a refreshing way, that will leave readers hopeful in the face of loss.
“Verbinksy Doesn’t Appreciate It” and “Alpha Meets Omega” really perfectly bookend the anthology, illustrating some good editing thoughts went into this compilation.
So, back to the first question: Is the art of Ryan Sook good enough to cause you to spend $7.99 for an 80-page comic book?
The answer is yes, as I hesitated before buying this issue, but Sook’s awesome blending of fantasy and science fiction with this seventeenth century Valkyrie with archaic or steampunk tools painting a star map inside the hull of her spacecraft, pushed me over the edge. Luckily what resides inside the covers does not disappoint.