We’ve got the rag-tag crew on a deep-space recovery mission. The cynical, washed-out commanding officer pining for the one he lost. The humans who arrogantly master a technology they may not fully comprehend. Yes, Outer Darkness #1 dishes up just about every genre cliché imaginable…and the final product may be one of the most interesting sci-fi comics of the year.
Facing grim prospects after a mutiny, Rigg receives the opportunity of a lifetime: the captain’s chair on his own ship. The vessel, Charon, is headed out on a recovery mission beyond the outer solar system, opening the door for plenty of cosmic horror in the blackness of space.
Working with homage and genre tropes is not an inherently bad thing. The key is a writer who knows how to use those tropes effectively to subvert expectations, engage readers, and tell an interesting story. And when it comes to a love and understanding of genre tropes, John Layman is the ideal candidate.
As mentioned, Outer Darkness #1 borrows from just about everywhere. Readers can pick up on as many touches of Star Trek, Event Horizon, and the work John Scalzi as of Moby Dick. However, the genre-picking is done in expert fashion to ensure that the right story elements pop at the right time.
One of the book’s greatest strengths is in its sincerity. Layman’s love for his inspirations comes through loud and clear, without the grating urge for self-aware parody. The goal isn’t to deliver the kind of commentary that is, at this point, as cliché as the genre tropes being parodied. Outer Darkness #1 simply delivers a charming and engaging space opera/supernatural horror story.
The artwork by Afu Chan provides an interesting match for the grittier story content. Chan’s characters throughout have a slightly rounded design, giving them a just slightly-cartoonish touch. Often-minimal backgrounds and wider palette of colors than is typical for a gritty sci-fi/horror story reinforce this.
Where the work really shines here in Outer Darkness #1 is in the non-human creature category. Though we only get short glimpses of the aliens, gods, and other supernatural beings inhabiting the world, it was more than enough to convert me to the book’s aesthetics.
From the first pages, we find creatures that lie somewhere between deep sea animals and psychedelic takes on Lovecraftian horror. I’m excited to see what other monsters Chan has in store as the series continues on.
Outer Darkness #1 is a loving tribute to genre tropes, but is still engaging even on its own. I expect great things from this series moving forward, and highly recommend picking it up.