Vault Comics continue to lengthen their pantheon of stories with the rough edged space opera that is “Vagrant Space.” Magdelene Visaggio, Jason Smith, Harry Saxon, and Zakk Saam present a princess in exile, with an interesting premise as to her attitude to make us want to check it out. The question is, can the creative team make us want to stick around?
Written by Magdelene Visaggio
Illustrated by Jason Smith
Colored by Harry Saxon
Lettered by Zakk Saam
Former child queen Elida was driven from her throne at age ten and forced to wander the galaxy, evading the revolutionary forces that wanted her dead. When an old frenemy claims to know the whereabouts of Elida’s long-lost mother, she is forced to return to her former kingdom and stage a rescue. Interstellar badassery by Eisner-nominated writer MAGDALENE VISAGGIO (Kim & Kim) with artist JASON SMITH.
Visaggio presents a likeable, rogue-ish type in protagonist Elida. As a testament to her name, we see her not engaging in royal activities, but on the run and working as a bounty hunter. There’s a lot of implication within the name, hints that Elida must have come from royalty, that there must have been some inciting incident or reasoning behind her becoming a ‘vagrant’, and that she chose out of all professions, bounty hunting. It’s clever book titling and clever character work, that gives readers something to work with as the story hits the ground running. We see through her interactions with other characters, like Isaac, that despite this unsaid tumultuous history, she likes to keep a hearty, good natured face. However, this soon flips, creating a compelling cold side to the character when Isaac mentions her mother. Visaggio has created a solid lead for her story here, one with a mysterious past, contrasting emotions and motivations right off the bat.
What works well, albeit to a lesser extent, is the supporting cast. Visaggio has gone to a great length to have Elida feel like a complex and realistic character. Take a step outward, and you have well written characters like Isaac and the imperialistic villain, who doesn’t appear to be named as of yet. Isaac works well as a character for Elida to bounce off, having an interest in wanting to help her further her quest. However, he’s not particularly likeable, coming off somewhat sleazy and unnecessarily cryptic. The villain works a little better, as we see his motivations clearer to catch Elida’s mother. He’s peppered nicely throughout the story in scenes for us as readers to develop a natural disgust of him. However, he feels somewhat one-noted, in his classical grins and moustache-twirling aesthetic. Aside from this, there aren’t a whole lot of characters that feel important or interesting. It lets down the world building somewhat, making the scenario seem smaller as it only focuses around Elida.
Something a little more erratic about this comic is a sense of pacing. The first scene felt a little ethereal and disconnected to me for a while, and it was only on my second read did I realise the character here was Isaac. Yet, it’s strange that this scene has so much real estate since I still have trouble discerning its relevance to the main plotline of Elida finding her mother. There are some moments where it’s hard to tear your gaze away, however. This mostly occurs within wordless action scenes – the scene of Elida taking care of Vado’s hired help Vogel is sharp and established Elida as a kick-ass-and-take-names badass. It’s unfortunate, then, that immediately following this is a scene that takes place with Isaac and Elida in a bar, feeling stretched out way too long just to establish and kick off plot devices. Visaggio has a good handle on action, but more attention has to be paid to weaving story elements into the natural narrative sequence.Continued below
Jason Smith has a good sense of enhancing cartoony light heartedness with his aesthetic. His art particularly shines in fast paced sequences, where it makes sense for figures and objects to be more absurdist. What stands out to me the most is the opening scene, making a good opportunity to grab interested readers into delving further within this story. Smith’s spaceships are angular, and look fierce ripping through the void of space, working well at exaggerating the stress that the pilot is going through, too. Smith also does smaller action sequences solidly. The Elida v Vogel scene is punchy and sharp, with Smith drawing Elida into purposeful and tough strike poses, making her look impressive and keep the overall pace of the scene super charged. It does feel a little too posed at times, however, making the characters feel more static than fluid. The page change in the aforementioned scene doesn’t have a sense of sequence or progression. Smith chooses instead to instantaneously move Elida from pose to pose like a sequence of posed photographs.
As I said, Smith brings a more animated-like style to the book, and it can be a hit or a miss for emotional conveyance and intimate moments. Starting with the positives, the scene of Elida stumbling into the bar, and ordering a drink feels and looks like Elida is glowing from her impressive display earlier. There’s a subtle change from satisfaction to weariness at a time when the bartender warns Elida of an oncoming charge, and it’s well shown and feels like a natural change of facial expression. However, as soon as Isaac is introduced to the scene, the emotions feel forced and unnatural. Isaac is a little more restrained due to his encumbering facial hair, but Elida seems to jump from anger, to stoicism and an awkward, side-profile of her sarcastically laughing that seems uncomfortably evocative of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Smith works better at keeping the emotions subtly and cleverly conveyed when characters are in action, but this whole transaction just oozes awkwardness.
Colors are handled by Harry Saxon, and are suitably bold and vibrant. Saxon uses a papery texture in some scenes, which evokes classic sci-fi and pulp-fiction, like the scene introducing Isaac to the bar and the shot of Xija station in the present. I love when this palette is subtly contrasted, however. When the scene shifts to the dirtier bar setting, Saxon adopts a sea-like green, still vibrant but containing a sense of unease that remains in the back of the readers mind throughout the sequence. However, the use of mostly flat colors and too-subtle shading makes some instances lack depth. The big panel of Elida decking Isaac square in the face loses a lot of impact due to the stark yellow background and strangely soft looking shading on the characters. It also makes the following chase scene feel shallow as the backgrounds are all strikingly lit, without any shading or change in color to imply depth of field. It doesn’t immensely hurt the action, but it keeps it from feeling truly immersive.
From the premise and setup, I want to like “Vagrant Queen” more than I do. It does still have merit, with Elida feeling like a truly interesting and layered characters, and some fun cartoon-style action sequences. However, it’s held back by pacing, awkward facial work and flat coloring in key moments that keep it from feeling like a true classic. I’ll be interested to see how much this changes down the line.
Final Score: 6.8 – “Vagrant Queen” #1 is a comic that shows promise, but is marred by a few pacing decisions and art technicalities that detracts from the book’s endearing nature.