What’s better than a tightly wound, compelling sci-fi story? A tightly wound, compelling sci-fi horror story brought to you by one of the creators of Chew. Outer Darkness from writer John Layman and artist Afu Chan is just that — and, one issue in, it’s good as hell.
What’s it about? Image/Skybound’s preview reads:
Mankind has colonized the galaxy, but during our interstellar travels, we discovered a terrifying secret out in the Outer Darkness of space. Join Captain Joshua Rigg and the crew of the starship Charon as they encounter demonic possessions, hauntings, cosmic horror, and more!
Sounds fun! And it is! It’s also equally spooky and surprisingly robust for an introductory issue, deftly avoiding many of the pitfalls of comic book introductions with ease through a series of vignettes that do some great world and character building in tandem. There’re space ghosts, skeletons, a man-eating spaceship and more here that all speak to a fully realized world waiting to be explored that Captain Rigg and the rest of the crew seem to fit in with perfectly under Layman’s capable and effervescent pacing and dialogue. What more can you ask for in a narrative? I would be hard pressed to say. Scenes of dialogue and action both feel tense and dynamic, and even the expected near-issue-end hook doesn’t feel entirely undeserved or rote like it might in other introductory issues.
Truly unique, here, too is the entirely cohesive blending of genres. It’s equal parts sci-fi, horror, military drama, and character-driven philosophical waxing without beating you over the head with sharp transitions between any of those parts, instead operating, at least for now, as a pretty stellar whole that elevates the entire affair feels wholly unique, too.
Visually, things are similarly distinct but slightly more lacking. Chan has a real knack for cool world design that shines through in every element of the book’s scenery to great effect — backgrounds and transitions don’t feel wasted here and Asian inspired space stations or sharp, angular ships catch the eye immediately. But, characters themselves feel a little static, never more so than when locked into a dialogue scene as words pass between them for long stretches at time with little else going on. You’ll stop looking and just start reading, not the best thing for a visual medium, but also something that is largely offset by how different and simply, cool, the world is.
Ultimately this is a sharp, stunning debut that falters a bit on the visual execution but is totally buoyed by its compelling narrative and premise. I’m completely on board and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.