John Layman and Afu Chan’s Outer Darkness is a masterclass in standalone, episodic storytelling with underlying plot threads tying everything together. Picking up after a month-long break from the previous issue, issue #7 is no exception, jumping back into the fold with no hitches or stutters. The structure remains mostly the same, with a disorienting cold open that takes place in another time before diving right into the ongoing story. Although this could be incredibly confusing and off-putting, especially after a two month gap, Layman and Chan do an excellent job centering the book and getting the readers situated again.
The opening of the issue reveals more details about Joshua’s past before he became Captain. While his crew was under attack and expected to die horribly, he confessed his love to Rochelle, one of his crewmates, only to be shot down. Layman and Chan do an excellent job depicting the emotional damage this did to Joshua, and how it still haunts him to this day. This is revealed to be a vision brought on by the God-Engine on the ship, allowing it to serve as both exposition and an ongoing plot thread.
The rest of the issue focuses on a new cosmic horror that the crew has to face. Immediately cutting to 1679 in France, Layman and Chan tell a Renaissance horror story about a haunted mansion and the demonic dealings that permeated it. Following this, the flashbacks jumped to the 1940s where a nun and a team of Nazi hunters in occupied France attempted to search the house only to disappear. The last leg of the issue is again the present story, where the crew rescues the nun from the house, which has mysteriously appeared in space.
The episodic structure of the series really shines in the monthly publishing schedule. In trade the overarching story is more apparent and easy to follow, but month to month the serialized nature of the story is the highlight. The issue as a whole is incredibly stylized, and while it’s true that very little happens to advance the main plot forward, the character work in the beginning and the story of the issue itself are both incredibly well-done and enjoyable. The structure is reminiscent of books like Planetary, where the issues themselves don’t necessarily end on a complete resolution, but they don’t need to. It allows for very striking beginning and endings to each issue, as exemplified by this one.
The cosmic mystic horror of the book continues to be an absolute delight. Mixing common cosmic tropes with common magical tropes delivers a fresh spin on both sides, and the overarching tone of horror makes the book stand out every week. Layman and Chan both do an incredible job making each issue feel procedural while also throwing something entirely new and unexpected at the crew and readers. It provides some excellent variety and keeps the book from getting stale.
Afu Chan’s art is also a massive contributor to the quality of this book. Every character is expressive, and no panel feels reused. Body language and facial expressions change between each panel when perspective does not, and the layouts on each page are incredibly intuitive and well-designed. There’s a gorgeous spread detailing the history of the haunted mansion that depicts different events happening throughout time in different rooms, and it’s absolutely phenomenal. This book would not be nearly as good as it is without Chan’s pencils and incredible tone-setting colors.
Outer Darkness starts up again after its short break with absolutely no lethargy, as the creative team seems to improve upon its own work every issue. The episodic, procedural nature of each issue allows it to continue to be new reader-friendly, but the exploration of the Captain’s backstory keeps it meaningful for readers who started from the first issue. The horror mixed in with magic and cosmic science fiction makes the book continue to feel wholly unique, and as always it is well worth reading.