Like many, I only knew John Layman from Chew, which is one of the first Image Comics I ever read. Thankfully, it looks like he’s going for something just as ambitious, entertaining, and flat-out wacko in this scif-fi horror/thriller.
What makes this series so ironically delightful is its cinematic inspirations that collide into a broiling pot of pulpy goodness. The dynamic of a bold captain leading a diverse cast is obviously Stark Trek and Moby Dick. A ship looking to rescue somebody in the outreaches of space is most certainly Alien. But let’s not forget the horrific demon space monsters that take cues from J-horror, Event Horizon, Dead Space, and Grant Morrison’s Nameless to name a few. This is a story that wears but also transcends the influences it openly borrows from.
The pacing is spot-on. A good deal of character work and combat make up this issue, but it doesn’t feel overstuffed or lagging. It takes an experienced writer to make each issue satisfying, and Layman is certainly that. One could make the argument that this issue is problematic because it doesn’t give us any more information about the actual rescue mission. While that would have been nice, the lack of information is addressed up front and this issue serves more as a showcase of the team getting acquainted with each other through the demon attack.
The sizable cast is admittedly overwhelming. Despite that, this issue focuses on the main players and revels in the conflict that comes from Captain Joshua Rigg intentionally steering his crew into lethally supernatural territory. There’s a good deal of amusement to be had from First Officer Alastor Satalis’s frustration with his devil-may-care boss.
Afu Chan’s minimalist, streamlined cartooning is a visual feast, no matter if a scene calls for monster blasting or a conversation. There’s a fantastic artist’s note in the back of this issue where Chan relays how inspired by cinema he is and how he draws only using “wide-shot panels just to mimic movie stills.” Those sensibilities make Outer Darkness a marvelous display of technical craft.
Furthermore, Chan does his own colors, which are just as impressive as his line-work. Aesthetic is especially essential for the comic medium to establish mood and tone, and Outer Darkness gives us a haunting and frighteningly vivid palette, especially when the crew encounters “a blue giant star possessed by an Abaddonian demi-Satan.” If that quote doesn’t make you want to buy this book–nothing can.