Orson is a humanoid being genetically engineered to go to Mars, but instead lives his life making ends meet and spending the rest on cybersex and futuredrugs. But when a popular actor/philanthropist couple loses one of their many children… ellipsis!
You’d think that the New 52 liberally borrowing from the tone and focus of Vertigo would put a little dent in the imprint’s future plans and yet, as 2011 is winding down, Vertigo as a line appears to be freshly inspired. New series are being launched (even as longstanding ones like Northlanders are unfortunately closing down) and their anthologies are getting better, with this month’s The Unexpected a contender for year’s best honors in that category. Interestingly enough, quite a lot of hope for the line is resting on Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s new series Spaceman, which was first previewed in The Unexpected’s middling predecessor from earlier this year, Strange Adventures.
At the heart of the high expectations for the series is its pedigree, with Azzarello and Risso the proud parents of one of Vertigo’s greatest hits, 100 Bullets. Spaceman at first glance appears to be a series that doesn’t quite have the same immediacy of 100 Bullets, which had a concept so great it could be sold to new readers with a single sentence plot description: people who have been wronged in some way are handed a gun with untraceable ammunition and all the evidence they need for revenge. That series eventually built up into a conspiracy tale of X-Files proportions but that hook was always there. Spaceman, however, seems to be a totally different beast, with the first issue not doing much to reveal the overall plan.
Which is why Risso may just have the most important role in this series. Not to diminish Azzarello’s writing or inventive use of dialogue, but Risso’s pencils are what will make or break this series and in the first issue he handles that job exceptionally well. Spaceman retains trace elements of Risso’s unique style– the jagged lines and menacing shading, the urban decay– but this is quite a departure for the artist. Just as Azzarello’s plotting has picked up notable Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Robert Heinlein influences (particularly in its The Moon is a Harsh Mistress dialogue), Risso is liberally borrowing from the likes of Paul Pope and Jamie Hewlett to deconstruct this pessimistic future.
That style goes a long way towards making an otherwise unassuming story work, especially since currently Azzarello seems to be content to let his own futurism happen with the dialogue and character origins rather than with real content. The gist of it all is that the protagonist, Orson, was genetically bred in a lab specifically to function as a perfect spaceman for Mars exploration. But that didn’t pan out, and now he’s living like a more urban version of Neuromancer‘s Henry Dorsett Case, hooked on virtual reality sex and chems. In the background, sarcastic future analogues of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have created a reality show where kids compete to be adopted by them and one of the lead contenders has been kidnapped. Their paths inevitably cross.
And yet, even if the story never really goes anywhere exciting, this issue more than justifies its dollar price tag due to Risso’s art, which is doubtlessly only going to get better as the series continues and he’s able to become more comfortable with the setting and tone. Vertigo has been offering these dollar first issues for a while, but this may be the perfect example of why they should be an industry standard– at $3.99 this comic would be the epitome of a letdown, but with $3 shaved off that cost, readers and critics alike can be more lenient. After all, if DC had done the same with their “all-new all-exciting!” Justice League I probably would given more than not a single fuck about that series.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.
It’s been a while since we heard about Spaceman — didn’t the Strange Adventures one-shot come out in June? — but in case you forgot about it, Vertigo’s released the inaugural issue of the new RissAzz joint for a single buck (or a penny less if you took to ComiXology like I did), so there’s no reason for any self-respecting comics reader not to pick it up. Sure, Brian Azzarello doing sci-fi might raise a few eyebrows the same way that Azz doing Superman did, but keep in mind that this is the writer creating his own futuristic world to play in rather than having to wrangle some stupid superhero property he doesn’t give a shit about.
their abilities to good use. Meanwhile, orphans must compete on reality television to be adopted by celebs.
Spaceman, with all its future-grime posting as rubbish modern life, feels like Paul Pope was behind the mixing board on this record. Even the colors by Patricia Mulvihill and Giulia Brusco look like what comes up in the mind reading Pope’s black and white THB (if you can find them). You could probably read Spaceman back-to-back with 100% and write a very nice comparative essay (which we won’t be doing today).
And with Risso drawing, you certainly get a cleaner style than Paul Pope’s noise-rock. His design of science horror spaceman Orson (サイエンスホラー宇宙人オーソン) is particularly smart, simultaneously bringing to mind astronaut test monkeys and Frankenstein. His layouts, meanwhile, are rarely separated by the usual white gutters, a style that never ceases to remind me of multiple web pages on a computer screen — probably a clever move for a story set in the future (and something I also loved about Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Strikes Again — cue hatemail). For a weird monster, there’s something inherently lovable about Orson.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics.