It’s tricky creating a comic based on a toy. For fans of the toys, nothing can compare with their nostalgic memories of playing in their fantasy dreamland with the toys, creating adventures based on their own imaginations. It therefore becomes a tricky balancing act to be true to the toys while bringing in new and interesting elements.
For those who aren’t fans of the toys, the problem is compounded by a lack of excitement. What is the compelling hook to get readers to pick up the comic? If the book appears directed at children, why should an adult reader want to read such a book?
Writer Eric Hayes walks that middle ground carefully in The Outer Space Men, presenting an erudite and intriguing script while also remaining true to the fun sci-fi roots of the goofy old Colorforms set that he updates here.
The Outer Space Men are a group of heroes from the Interplanetary Security Council, a group of odd creatures from each planet in the Solar System who are customized for the planet they’re from, like the old Guardians of the Galaxy. Colossus Rex is the dense and lizard-like creature from Saturn; Electron+, the troubled, robot-like creature from Pluto; and Commander Comet, the angel-like creature from Venus.
Hayes does a nice job of bringing these characters to life on the printed page. Each has their own unique set of complexities that make them fully-fleshed characters. Electron+ deals with some intense loneliness, while Colossus has issues with anger. In each case, the characterization fits well with the characters’ histories and planets, giving the story a feeling of holistic completeness.
At the same time the characters also seem rooted in their own goofiness. Council meetings always end with the odd phrase “fourteen words” chanted in unison, as a childlike totem of power.
What’s most striking about Hayes’s writing, though, is his literary references. This comic may be based on a set of toys, but the toys often seem to be a parable for deeper themes that Hayes wants to explore. The Outer Space Men journey down into a planet into a place that literally resembles a mythic Hell. There is even an analogue to Charon, the ferryman from Greek mythology who would carry the souls of dead people down the River Styx into Hades.
In having his characters travel through Hell and fight through to redemption, Hayes seems to be creating a parable for the process of growing up. Most people start with a feeling of freedom, joy and openness in our lives. Slowly that joy goes away as we become more mature and responsible, only for that joy to return with the simple joys and glow of nostalgia as an adult.
As the toys grow and change while being true to themselves, so too do all of us.
This is heady stuff for a toy comic, and this sense of depth of concept helps make this book quite intriguing.
Rudolf Montemayor does a solid job on the art in this comic. His stylings are full of solid linework an intriguing page layouts. He’s adept at presenting a wide variety of scenes in the book while having his characters look realistic. Montemayor’s depictions of strange mythic monsters early in the book are especially interesting and effective.
I’ve never heard of the Outer Space Men toys; for all I know, they may even be made up by Hayes for this comic. But Hayes does a nice job of turning these toys into interesting characters and setting them loose in a complex and intriguing plot. He gives an apathetic reader plenty of reason to care about these toys.