Pullbox Reviews: Outer Darkness #9 – What If Gene Roddenberry & H.P. Lovecraft got together..?

The haunted knife causes anybody who touches it to go on a murderous stab-rampage. Do NOT touch the haunted knife.

Life in the Galactic Service is never dull. Most of the time, it’s razor edged, painfully sharp & eager to spill the blood of the innocent and unsuspecting. The crew of the science vessel Ouroboros have become aware of this basic fact, and now it falls to Captain Joshua Rigg and the crew of the Charon to find out what happened. In a galaxy populated by alien factions, ancient demons, and haunted star systems, it could literally be just about anything.

We’ve seen this all before, right? An interstellar organization dedicated to the exploration of space, made up of races covering every conceivable configuration, both human and not. A ship with a continuing mission to boldly go where no one  has gone before, its intrepid crew ready to leap into action at the order of their Captain… maybe plant a dagger in his back, or feed his soul to the ancient Sumerian deity imprisoned in the bowels of the vessel.

Wait… back that up… what was the last bit again?

If you’re like me, late (again) to the party and just catching up on this bizarre series from co-creators John Layman and Afu Chan, you’re gonna need a minute to process. This is a sci-fi/horror series following the crew of the Charon as they face the countless dangers of a universe gone mad. Entire solar systems are haunted. Crewmen are routinely possessed by demons. The ship itself is powered by an imprisoned ancient god, fueled by human sacrifices. The ship’s security forces wade into action side by side with a contingent of exorcists. In the most shocking departure from the norm, Captain Joshua Rigg is almost universally hated by his crew, and spends much of his time trying to anticipate an inevitable mutiny, most likely to be followed by a horrible death.

Who in the name of Jean Luc Pickard comes up with this stuff?

Glad you asked.

Some may recognize the name of John Layman from his very original take on the police procedural, Chew, in which the lead investigator solved crimes by eating portions of the dearly departed, thus gaining insight into their deaths. This whole thing makes a little more sense now, right? Apparently, someone told Layman he was never gonna top the twisted nature on that bit of work, and his response was “hold my beer.” Not satisfied with simple shock value (don’t you worry, there’s still plenty of that) he’s populated this horrific story with a great cast of characters who are slowly being revealed as they’re all given time in the spotlight. Overall, it’s a fantastic job of taking the very familiar, twisting it in its comfortable trappings of hope and optimism, and then warping it all into a barely recognizable reflection of itself.

So how does one approach the visual aspect of this kind of comicbook? Co-creator and artist Afu Chan could have opted for a grim and gritty book, all darkly lit environments, with character designs to reflect their world. But he didn’t. Instead, Chan uses a style very reminiscent of a classic manga. In particular, the look of Outer Dark reminds me very much of the old Starblazers cartoon, or the Macross Saga. It’s all very bright and cheery in design and color scheme… right up until the dismembering starts. Honestly, given the subject matter of the book, I couldn’t think of a less appropriate artistic style, and Chan’s sharp left turn away from the predictable couldn’t be more perfect. The layouts could be used to storyboard an epic motion picture (or anime), complete with some outstanding panel transitions that showcase the immense scope of this universe, or alternately pull in to highlight the isolation and singular horror on a smaller scale.

Letterer Pat Brosseau gets his share of the props here, as he’s called on to create alien languages, demonic script, and mystic sigils on a pretty regular basis. Lettering a comic generally requires that the artist goes to great pains to minimize the impact of their work, presenting text in such a way to make it easily readable without interrupting the story or taking attention away from the artwork. Brosseau is able to manage this, while still showing distinction between the speech of humans, aliens, and demons… and I’m personally very impressed with the multiple variations on the sound made as a blade enters and/or exits a body.

If the Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror introduced us to an alternate reality showing a darker version of life in Starfleet, Layman and Chan are crafting an even more sinister version of that. Outer Dark is absolutely not for the timid, the dogmatically challenged, or the easily offended. It’s a title that gleefully tackles topics like human sacrifice, mass murder, & brutal torture as a matter of daily living.

My final score: 10+

(Gallu made me say all that… don’t buy this book… run, for the love of………………)

Sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Purchase this book. Buy all of the books, at least twice, and may He Who Lurks in the Darkness Between Stars have mercy on your immortal soul.

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