Tag Archives: Space

Reviews: Outer Limits Edition

Ghosts, heroes, the end of the world. Comics let us explore all of these ideas with just a few pen-strokes. In today’s post we have a hero born in death, a world on the brink of being engulfed by the sun, and a kid just trying to heal the hole in his heart.

The Bigger Bang

Writer – D. J. Kirkbride, Artist – Vassilis Gogtzilas

TheBiggerBangCosmos is a man feared as “the universe killer”. His birth destroyed Earth and countless other worlds. Though he could not control the circumstances of his birth, Cosmos lives to try to save as many lives as he can, even though everywhere he is feared and has no one to talk to. A fighter commander who is sent to kill him instead is falling in love with him, but can she be trusted? And can they both stop a king intent on destroying everything in his path?

I like the concept, and little details like how small Cosmos’ voice is when he first speaks, a calm voice in a being so powerful. There are some spectacular feats accomplished, including absorbing the energy of a sun going nova and re-directing the energy of a volcano.

Gogtzilas’ style is rough and scratchy. It lends the page a more sketchbook like quality than a finished product. Toothy grins extend long beyond the borders of their faces, and everything is drably colored. Despite the cosmic and other-worldly tale, there seems to be a gray haze over everything. Some of the character designs are quite imaginative, and evoke more of a space fable or pulp adventure than a serious story.

Your typical all powerful being has to have some kind of flaw, or they’re not very interesting (re: Superman). Cosmos’ weakness is guilt, and an inability to connect with people due to the massive scale of his power, and the fear of his reputation. This is explored well at first, in the places he finds solitude and in the worlds he tries to save, but in the end comes down to a fight between one big bad, and the good guy. Redemption through force against an opponent he doesn’t have to hold back against isn’t much of a revelation.

Overall, this isn’t bad, but the art style will probably be a turn off to some of you.

(3 stars | Good as a limited series, and could have gone longer if it took some different directions)

Low – Volume 1

Writer – Rick Remender, Artist – Greg Tocchini

LowThe human race is at an end, the Earth about to be swallowed up by the sun, making the surface a toxic airless wasteland. We have never gone to the stars, our closest step sending a few probes we’ve long forgotten about. All the human race can do is sit at the bottom of the ocean and wait for time to run out. And do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex while we wait.

A mother loses her husband and her two daughters to pirates, the daughters stolen and the husband slain for a battle suit and a legacy of hatred. Years pass and there is a faint hope that a probe has found a habitable planet, but the probe and its data are trapped on the barren and lifeless surface, and the only help the mother can find to get it, is a son who has succumbed to the same fatalism as the rest of the human race.

Right off the bat, this book is NSFW. There’s swearing of course, including overuse of the c-word (though maybe that’s just a trigger for me). And if you thought Saga could be a little shocking and depraved … well … it is, but this title could give Saga a run for its money with some of its clear parallels to the fall of the Roman Empire and the accompanying orgies

Remender’s good at pulpy action, and like Black Science you can never count on exactly who is going to survive. Tocchini’s visuals can be a treat, vast underwater cities and wildlife. But this is definitely a “mature” title. I think the idea that the human race will remain stuck on Earth even millions or billions of years later seems a bit of a stretch. In addition to overuse of the c-word, Remender likes to work his title into the plot in every chapter, talking about how low people have fallen, or how low a certain action is. It’s a little corny.

The final two issues are quite good and set up the next arc well. While not as good as Black Science, this is still worth a look if you can get past some of the content.

(4 stars | Seriously, read this at home)

Doomboy

Writer and Artist – Tony Sandoval

DoomboyD is a depressed teen coping with the recent death of his girlfriend Annie by playing lonely sessions on the beach, and by beating people up with his guitar. His grief has caused a literal hole in his chest, which he tries to cope with by playing his feelings into the sky, and also on an obscure radio frequency that makes him a local unknown legend, even among the people who hate him.

It’s a tightly focused piece, taking place largely over the course of a summer and the Doomboy sessions. Most characters either have very tiny eyes and big foreheads, or there eyes are completely covered by their hair. The mouths are large when open and small when closed.

I found the asides and remembrances a little distracting, but I loved the sequences that visualized the music as giant squids or clouds climbing across the sky. There are some little details, like the purchasing of a star or Annie drawing eyes on D’s guitar that add to the fantasy and mystery elements, while at the same time staying grounded in understandable pain and loss. The final sequence is a bit confused but overall it’s a nice tale of using musing to cope with grief and connect with people, and how we can be inspired by even the bad things that happen in our lives.

There are some sketches at the back for the original short inspiration for the story which provide some interesting background. Not quite up to the prestige price it is being offered at, but good to pick up or maybe check out from your library.

(3 stars | An imperfect piece, but worth a read)

Wayward Volume 1

Writer – Jim Zub, Artist – Steve Cummings

WaywardA girl, Rori, daughter of a Japanese seamstress and an Irish engineer comes to Japan after a falling out with her father to live with her mother. Her mother’s job keeps her out weird hours, and so Rori is given plenty of time to explore Japan, including some dark corners where she’s attacked by turtle men, and saved by a girl who seems to have some special relationship to cats. Soon she begins to see her own powers to see the strings of the world around her, and other people with power are drawn to her, for good and evil.

As much as this is a fantasy story set in Japan, it also seems very rooted in the real Japan, and not the land of oriental mystery that’s in a lot of these stories. The difficulty of being a girl with red hair in a Japanese school, the urban life of the working class in Japan are just a couple of examples of this authenticity at work.

Zub draws on a lot of legends and creatures known as Yokai, while creating his own legends. At the back he explains all of the various creatures and their origins in Japanese mysticism. There’s a lot of humor and the tone is a little lighter than the rest of the pieces in this post. Cummings art is very grounded in real architecture, while still allowing for the presence of evil creatures and magical girls. Like a lot of first volumes, this will leave you hungry for more, and in some way the story is just getting started, but I trust Zub to take us the rest of the way.

I was looking forward to this for a while and was not disappointed when I found it on NetGalley.

(5 stars | Good balance of fun, action and fantasy)

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Denied the Stars (Conclusion)

“Lyubov and Andrei had both assured me the capsule would be safe. The glass had been polarized to filter out the sun’s rays, and the only part of my body that was exposed was my face inside the helmet. I think they tried, but the sun is a tenacious foe, and has ways of burning us that science has not been able to identify. It’s not the ultraviolet radiation, vampires don’t die from getting a tan, and it’s not the light itself. It’s something at the heart of the sun that tries to snuff out any darkness that if finds.”

“The sun looks much bigger on the ground than it does in space, not the orb itself, but the effect it has on the sky. On Earth it’s like whole hemisphere is out to get you. We are fooled by what we see when we look at the stars into thinking that space is dark, that the vast nothing between the dots in the sky will protect us.”

“It does not.”

“Your first Apollo astronauts died in a fire in their capsule, having never even left the ground.  As my face began to singe and boil I had some idea of what it must have felt like for them. Instinctively I took off my helmet, which only exposed more of my flesh. My hair, skin, my eyes were a blaze.”

“I pitched forward in a futile attempt to dive beneath the controls. Somewhere along the way down I fired the boosters knocking the capsule down out of its orbit and plummeting back toward the planet. Staring down at Earth I was temporarily released from the burning glare of the sun, but my approach was too steep, and the heat shield was on the other side of the capsule. Vampires have been known to survive falls from great heights, but I doubt any could survive the fires of reentry with no protection.”

“I grabbed one of the emergency fire blankets from the compartment above me and covered my face with it, while at the same time firing the boosters to try to flip myself back around. I was literally falling blind, but I didn’t dare move the blanket. My face was in agony, and my vision was beginning to cloud with blood. The capsule was screaming all around me, but all I could hear was a faint rushing in my ears.”

“What happened?” I said, leaning forward.

The man shrugged, “I blacked out. The capsule landed somewhere in Cambodia.  I didn’t even make one complete orbit,” he smiled wryly. “When I came to it was blessedly dark, and I was able to find a cave nearby where I could heal. The radio, the transponder, everything was smashed. If I’d been a human I would have been smashed too. I don’t know if they ever found that capsule, but I do know they thought I was dead. Not that I wasn’t dead before.” At this the man laughed and leaned back more comfortably.

“I survived on goat’s blood and a lot of rest, all the while trying to make it back to my home. I had nothing, so I was forced to walk most of the way. Occasionally I would ride the goats before I ate them. Eight months later I arrived here, and have lived in this town ever since.”

“Why didn’t you go back?” I asked.

“There was nothing to go back to, at least that’s how I felt at the time. The stars had made it plain that I was not welcome among them. I’d spent my whole life wanting something I could not have, with my anemic body, or with my dead body. It’s a cruel joke that God has been playing on me, or so I thought anyway.”

“I’m very sorry,” I said. There was little else to say. “Why did you tell me this story?”

The man suddenly stuck his hand into an inner coat pocket and pulled out a white and silver piece of paper, “Somebody needed to know.”

The paper was a ticket for my spaceflight the next day.

“But … you’ll die.”

“Yes I will, but it’ll be among the stars…”

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Denied the Stars (Part 4)

“Lyubov in our native tongue means ‘love’. I’ve always thought that was an odd name for such a hard man. By the mid-eighties the KGB was acting out of desperation. We all knew that the Soviet republic would fall, it was only a matter of time. Yet we acted as we had when the state was new, and Lyubov was no different.”

“I had no great love for government, less for a bunch of spies and assassins, but Andrei assured me this was the only way to the touch the stars I yearned for so desperately.”

“If Lyubov knew what we were he never said it, but there was something about the way he looked at us both that betrayed his true feelings. He would not shake our hands, and I did not offer mine. After a while you get tired of trying to explain why your grip feels like ice. His tone was terse, where with others he might have tried to be inspiring, with us he just laid it out.”

“Salyut 7 was not decommissioned after all. The crew that had docked from Mir had been a specially trained pair of agents who had outfitted the station with equipment to spy on the Northern Hemisphere, our friends in the Americas. Most of the station’s power was spent in constant surveillance, but something had gone wrong in the last few weeks and they were no longer getting any kind of  a signal. Lyubov needed an unofficial crew to go up there and repair the station, and run it manually if need be for the foreseeable future. Men of our kind were ‘the obvious choice’ since we needed next to nothing, even air to breathe.”

“How long can you live without blood?” I asked

“We don’t actually need it at all, but it dulls an ache inside us, one that threatens to rob us of our strength, and eventually our sanity. We can go for years if need be, though Andrei was a little concerned for me as I had not been one of his kind for long.”

“The mission was to go up in a few days, and Andrei and I spent the interim drinking. Just as we are without hunger, we are without satiation as well. Andrei said he was building up my stores of energy so I would be better able to survive, but I’m not sure if he truly believed this. If you drink anything in large enough quantity you can become drunk on it, and we spent a few last happy days in reverie before my silent and cold launch in the middle of the night.”

“The capsule was at least ten years old, one of the older models that had sent the first Salyut crew to their deaths, the first men to asphyxiate in space. The capsule had been thought to be scrapped and indeed it would no longer have been safe for anyone but me.”

“Though the mission itself bore no particular interest for me I could not help but be excited. Andrei was waiting for me at the base of the large tower and I embraced him with a grip that would have cracked the ribs of most men. We may not want to make more of our kind, but those we do welcome into our fold we treat like brothers. A few minutes later I was strapped in.”

“Lying back at the top of a rocket you lose a sense of how high up you really are. The whole sky reaches up above you, and it feels like you could be lying on the ground, or floating upward into the clouds. The force of the rocket was unmistakable though. Waves of gravity hit my body, hungrily trying to pull me back down even as I escaped the atmosphere. Then suddenly, nothing.”

“Weightlessness is a feeling like none that I have ever experienced. My body had always felt heavy to me, the need for blood when I was alive and dead kept me bound to the earth, and even the spaces beneath the earth. I didn’t think that it was only gravity after all, but for that brief moment I actually felt alive again, perhaps for the first time.”

“Salyut was stationed in geo-synchronous orbit above the east coast of the United States. As my capsule shot around the planet, licking up the distance above the ocean in minutes I saw something that I hadn’t glimpsed since I became what I am.”

“The sunrise.”

To be concluded…

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Denied the Stars (Part 2)

The color must have drained from my face, because seconds later the man was clapping me on the shoulder.

“Relax, my young friend. I’m not gonna bite. Look … see.”

The man used his left index finger to lift his thick mustache and upper lip to reveal a normal set of teeth, though in considerably better shape than a man of nearly eighty had any right to.

“See. Nothing pointy or sharp. You’ll find no animals in the village with two little teeth marks either.”

I somehow mustered the strength to speak, “Then how do you…”

The man thumbed in the direction of the bar maid, “She gets it for me, from the butcher I think, though it’s not exactly a secret in town either. The coffee shop down the street’ll serve me if I’m in a bind, but I can only get in there in the winter, and only if I don’t linger. But Anna has never left me high and dry. She wants me to make her one, when she gets older, but I’m hoping she’ll change her mind.”

I felt like someone was putting me on. The blood had to be cornstarch or something else. Some local trick to get the best of the locals. But if the man was playing a game he wasn’t playing a very good one. Even an amateur would’ve sprung for the teeth.

“So … if you don’t bite anyone, how did you…?”

The man knocked back the rest of his drink and nodded to the bar maid to get him another, “Not all at once. You have to indulge an old man his ways, especially when he buys you a drink.”

The woman walked over and set down two glasses, his opaque, mine frosted. Even though the glass was clear I was hesitant to take a sip, not quite sure of the contents. As it turns out the quality of the beer had significantly improved. Evidently the bar maid didn’t give out the best stuff to just anyone.

“Thanks.”

“Anything for a fellow cosmonaut. As I said, I was like you as a child, dreaming of one day not just going to the stars but living there. You Americans may have landed on the moon first, but we were the first to make space our home. Our greatest hero dies in a plane crash, we keep going. Our first space station crew asphyxiates on reentry, we send up another. There was a spirit in those days, something I think your country forgot, of space being the next frontier.”

“And so I wanted to be a part of it. Most cosmonauts started as pilots, so I joined our air force at 14 by lying about my age. I was an experienced flier by 19 and a candidate for the Soviet Space Program by 22. We’d been launching space stations since the 70s and the last of the Salyut line, Salyut 7 was launched just a few years before I joined the program.”

“I trained harder than men twice my size. I wanted to get to the head of the line as soon as possible. But my body began refusing to cooperate.”

“What happened?” I asked.

The man gave me a wry smile, “I’m anemic, or was anyway, which as ironies go is a pretty good one. I’d been able to stave off problems before with regular transfusions, but the training program was straining my body beyond its limit. Somehow I was able to keep myself upright through sheer force of will during the day, but at night I would collapse into my bunk, not sleeping, but simply unable to command my body. My internal organs were deprived of oxygen, and if that goes on for long enough your body begins to shut down.”

“How did you hide what was happening to you?”

“Early on in the program I made the acquaintance of one of the program’s doctors, Andrei, who helped me get my transfusions without the rest of the team knowing. Sometimes he would stop by my bunk at night to give me something to help me sleep and restore me to some kind of working order. I think we both knew that actually flying a capsule might kill me, but he wanted to help me try.”

“One night I collapsed in the hallway on the way back to my room, gashing my head on a crate as I went down. Still have the scar.”

He parted his hair back his forehead and a thin white line extended for nearly three inches, starting from his temple.

“How did you survive?”

“I didn’t. I don’t know how much blood I had lost when Andrei found me. I was shifting in and out of consciousness and could only sense a vague form lifting me up, then putting me down on a table. I don’t know if he tried to ask me, asked me if I wanted to become like him, but the question had been answered a dozen times as I kept trying to force this shell to get me into space.”

“The transition is painless. at least it was for me. The body does not strain, the mind does not trash. There is only a sense of warmth slowly ebbing away. At the time I had thought I was only dying. But then I suddenly awoke, and Andrei was looking at me with sad dark eyes.”

To be continued…

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Denied the Stars (Part 1)

The bar was no more promising than the rest of the town, but I didn’t feel like sitting in my hotel room staring at four walls before the launch. Taking a trip to space, even as tourist, seemed to be something that should have more of a sendoff, some acknowledgement that this time was in fact special.

Probably if I’d taken the Virgin Galactic route there would have been a party, but something about going up into space with the people who did it first made more sense to me. That and it was 50,000 dollars cheaper. Still, a gruff trainer signing off that I had completed my three days of athletic preparation did not quite feel like all the pomp the occasion was due.

Walking through the door of the bar was like walking back in time, not just a few decades, but centuries into the past. Most were dressed as you would expect them to be in some old soviet movie, ratty gray coats, with wool hats and long gray beards. The only woman in the room was the bartender, and it was unlikely anyone had made a pass at her in 15 years, or dared try.

The room was packed with the only available seats at one of the many tables around the edge of the room, each with at least one occupant. Parties are usually better when more than one person is involved, but I didn’t particularly relish ambling my way up to a stranger, especially strangers who looked like this.

I grabbed my beer which was chilled in a long cold glass and started an aimless walk toward somewhere to land. Everyone seemed to ignore me, everyone except for a man with a dark beard and darker eyes in the far corner. It was not a warm look per-say  but it did seem to be the best invitation I was going to get, and he did not raise any objections when I sat down across from him. He even had the decency to say the first words.

“You’re going up tomorrow?”

“Yes,” I replied a little startled, “how did you know?”

“No one visits this place except to go up into space. And you look tired, but not like the rest of us. We have been tired all of our lives, but for you it has only been the last few days.”

I took a nervous sip of my beer, “Yeah, they’ve been working us pretty hard. Seems like a lot of effort just to sit in a chair, be weightless for twenty minutes, and then come back down.”

“Then why do it?”

“Well, because, I d’know. It’s space. It’s the kind of thing you dream about when you’re a kid. And I know it’s not like the men who went to the moon or anything, but it’s the biggest taste of it I’m likely to get.”

Unexpectedly the man laughed, “That is a good reason. Men much younger than you forget what it is like to be a child. I saw Gagarin fly when I was eight and I’ve never forgotten it.”

“Gagarin?”

Yuri Gagarin was practically the reason I was here, that and the money. We may have landed on the moon first, but Gagarin beat us to the heavens. He returned there about eight years later, only that time dead. Not many in the year 2030 remembered him with quite the same reverence, but as I’d said, space was my dream since I was a child.

“But that was seventy years ago! Pardon my asking but what do they put in the water around here?”

“It’s not the water,” the man said as he took a sip of his own drink. He then pulled a shot glass from deep in the folds of his coat and poured out a little of his mug. The substance was thick and viscous, a dark crimson that swayed back and forth in the glass as he poured. Leaving half the shot glass empty he pulled out a flask and filled it to the top with something brown.

“Nothing like a jack and blood, eh my young friend? And you thought all we Russians drank was vodka!”

To be continued…

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She’s Givin’ It All She’s Got

Today private company SpaceX launched a robotic module, Dragon, from Cape Canaveral to rendezvous with the International Space Station later this week. Though there were no astronauts on board, the ashes of 306 people including James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek), we launched along with the capsule.

I’m tremendously happy to see someone launching a craft into space, even if it isn’t NASA. I felt it was a poor decision for NASA to discontinue the shuttle program before having a replacement vehicle. I was born in 1985, a year before the Challenger disaster. For many years the Russian space station MIR was humanity’s finest achievement in space (that little hunk o’ junk lasted up there 15 years whereas we grounded SkyLab in less than two). All NASA seemed to do was launch missions into low Earth orbit, or send robot probes to distant planets instead of people. We had the Hubble, which took years to get working properly, but long gone were the days of going to the moon or anywhere else.

Then we started on the International Space Station. At first progress was slow, and there we some early talks of grounding that station by 2015. Now it’s become a true outpost in space, one that will hopefully last into the next decade at least, and possibly be the place where we start to study the technology and build the spacecraft that will send us beyond our planet.

Then we stop the shuttle program and have to rely on the Russians to taxi us up to the station. I know the cold war is over, but really?!

I’ve felt for a long time that privitization was the only way anything was going to get done in space (in fact it was the topic of my first novel I drafted in High School). Maybe it takes a rich crazy billionare like Elon Musk to get us out into space, where a government funded agency cannot. I’ve always been annoyed at people who wanted to cut the NASA budget in favor of “more important” problems on the ground, when NASA is but the tiniest fraction of the federal budget, and by far not the most wasteful. A private company ends this argument, Elon Musk or Richard Branson or other crazy people can spend their money however they darn well want too, and at least one of them has the same dream I did when I grew up watching The Next Generation.

Technology advances and humanity grows because we try to go after the pipe dreams, the things beyond our reach. Sometimes we have bumps along the way, but we have to keep trying. If we only look to the ground pretty soon we’ll trip over our own feet.

Thus concludes my song.

Bonus Points to anyone who can identify which episode of The Orignal Series Good Morning America’s picture is from. It’s one of my favorites!

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