The third of Vertigo’s one-shot anthologies, “Mystery in Space” primarily focuses on the kind of science fiction that the name implies: the kind with, you know, mysteries. Overall, though, the content is quite diverse, but does diverse necessarily mean good? Join me as I review each story in this 80-page monster through a paragraph each, and we will see how it looks like as a whole.
Written and Illustrated by Various
This one-shot anthology is loaded with unsettling short stories that will hijack your imagination and take you to strange, mysterious places. Journey to the edge of the abyss with Michael Allred! Plus: Broken hearts will be cryogenically frozen, a zero-gravity menage á trois will be compromised by aliens, and solar systems will spiral out of control when top comics talents and exciting newcomers collide!
‘Verbinksy Doesn’t Appreciate It’ is a fun little story written by Duane Swierczynski and illustrated by Ramon Bachs. At least, it is until the end. For the most part, Swierczynski tells a lighthearted little story of the would-be chosen few saviors of Earth who end up coming back to live their normal lives with a “souvenir” or two attached to their body. Then, Swierczynski decides to ruin it all with a dark twist that does nothing to better the tale. Thankfully, the story is not a complete loss – Ramon Bachs has a great and unique style going for him that is both expressive and easy to follow. His stylization fits both the more lighthearted and darker segments just fine, whether or not those darker segments were necessary.
Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice’s ‘Transmission’ is one of the best stories from the anthology, if not the best. The story contains a heavy dose of expository dialogue, but Diggle is careful to write it in a way that harkens to the earlier writers of science fiction; short story writers already have a difficult time establishing all the necessary information, and sci-fi writers tend to have a lot more ground to cover. ‘Transmission’ is a story concerned with ideas – just you wait and see – and so most of the plot development is furthered through dialogue. Diggle is able to take a trope that seems entirely played out and bring a new twist to it in an incredibly clever way, and Gianfelice makes sure that the dialogue-heavy story avoids being just a sequence of talking heads. The pair works together quite well; perhaps we may see a new sci-fi ongoing from them in the future? If so, this reviewer is onboard completely.
The third story, ‘Asleep to See You’ is by writer/artist Ming Doyle, and is the most poignant of the stories in the collection. The theme of true love being immune to the hardships of distance or time may be one that has been toyed with over and over again, but that does not make it any less pleasant to see it well-executed. The comic takes both space and time to further extremes than a contemporary piece of fiction every could, reinforcing just how powerful and emotional science fiction can be. Doyle also understands that not everything has to be explained; the core story does not necessarily need an in-depth dossier on the setting, and so Doyle skips anything like that, leaving it up to the reader’s imagination. The story is tied together by Doyle’s clear, detailed lines, as well as her excellent sense of storytelling.
After the disappointing reception of her “Green Arrow” run, Ann Nocenti does not exactly win back readers with her story ‘Here Nor There.’ While it is clear that Nocenti is trying to metaphorically tie in matters of science to the hardships of marriage, an idea that could be interesting if done well, she seems to be far too interested in “clever” wordplay, and not at all interested in telling a story with a human core. The dialogue is stunted and groan-worthy, while the characters themselves seem like cardboard cutouts. Fred Harper’s rather expressive art is not necessarily bad, but it certainly is not good enough to save this train wreck of a comic. And if I have to read one more comic with a cat named Schrodinger…Continued below
‘The Elgort’ is a sci-fi yarn by author Nnedi Okorafor and industry veteran Michael Wm. Kaluta that takes up the middle of the floppy copy, and is appropriately of middling quality. The world that Okorafor has dreamed up seems to be an interesting mixture of science fiction and fantasy, with a strange mix between high technology and harmony with nature, but Okorafor seems to be sleepwalking through her story; despite the intended intense levels of action, everything seems to be moving slowly and methodically. Kaluta’s art may be impressive – his level of detail in some panels is nothing less than astounding – but the main character of the story has few expressions beyond mild surprise, furthering the rather dull feel of the story.
Steve Orlando and Francesco Trifogli’s ‘Breeching’ is one of the stranger tales in the collection, featuring a race of centaur-like beings reconciling – or refusing to reconcile – the symbolic nature of their human and horse halves in a commentary on the tie and conflict between sexuality and totalitarianism. The segment is less of a conventional story and more of a thematic thought piece that will be interesting to some, and bothersome to others. Artist Trifogli’s figures and his strength of motion are admirable, though still not perfect, but he really needs to step up on his backgrounds. With the exception of the first panels on the first and last pages, the backgrounds are distracting in how vacant they are, detracting from an otherwise intriguing, and bizarre, comic.
‘Contact High’ by Robert Rodi and Sebastian Fiumara is on the upper half of this comic’s bad/good spectrum, though you might prefer to avoid it if you are a judgmental about sexualities that differ from the culturally-perceived norm (your loss). Science fiction has long had heavy psychological overtones, and a major recurring theme is the effect of isolation. Rodi experiments with the idea of isolation even when in close proximity to others, and how that might even be more stifling. The dialogue is wonderfully organic, and Rodi makes sure to not answer all of the questions he raises, leaving the reader asking questions, but still intrigued. Fiumara’s art is excellent, with a high level of detail that avoids being overwhelming, and colorist Sal Cipriano brings everything together in the most beautiful way.
Kevin McCarthy and Kyle Baker team up for the penultimate story, ‘The Dream Pool,’ to disappointing results. Kyle Baker has always had a bizarre style that stands out from other homogenized comic artists, and if anywhere is the place to experiment with artistic styles it’s a Vertigo anthology, but it is difficult to tell whether or not Baker is experimenting or getting lazy. While each panel bursts with creativity, that creativity is unrestrained and sloppy. Thankfully, the layouts are good enough that the reader is not completely lost, but McCarthy is to credit for that, not Baker. It’s a real shame, too; McCarthy’s story is a unique one with a darkly humorous twist to it that serves as a cherry on top. Perhaps if Baker had reigned it in a bit with this story, this would be one of the better choices of the issue, but as is, it is a bit too hard on the eyes to fully enjoy.
Mike Allred’s ‘Alpha Meets Omega’ perhaps fits the science fiction bill least of all the stories, but it is perhaps the best one in this collection. Much like ‘Asleep to See You,’ ‘Alpha Meets Omega’ tackles common themes of the point of existence and the confusion that life and death bring in a way that is unlike anything ever seen before. The visuals are amazing; Allred tackles abstract concepts in ways that are perfectly readable and easy to digest – at least, as easy as big questions such as “What is happy?” can be. Mike’s lines are beautifully clear, and his wife Laura’s colors are breathtakingly beautiful. These are five of the best comics you will ever read, and, despite the deliberate vagueness, one of the most reassuring comics around for those crushed with debilitating angst.
In the end, the good comics outweigh the bad in this collection, but just barely. At $7.99 for 72 pages, or 11 cents a page, it is certainly a better deal than DC’s normal offering of 15 cents a page, but still, $7.99 is a hefty price tag for a collection with only twelve pages of truly great comics, a handful of good ones and a lot more mediocre to awful pages. Allred and Diggle’s contributions might be worth the price of admission to some, but probably not for all.Continued below
Final Verdict: 6.0 – My bad for naming this pick of the week.