Space opera is one of my favourite genres of fiction to read. You give me something to read with spaceships and big battles and heroes and what not, I’ll gobble it up. Space opera horror though, that’s a different matter altogether. Very different. I haven’t tried much of it, very little in fact. At the moment, the only one that comes to mind right now is an audio drama by Steve Lyons for Warhammer 40,000: The Madness Within. Now that was a fun little thing although it wasn’t strictly space opera. Still. When faced with a book/comic in a genre I love you, I’m going to do my best to read it.
The week before last Avatar Press released the first issue of a new series by one of the most well-known writers in the business, Caliban #1 by Garth Ennis. And mainlining as the artist on this book is Facundo Percio, who is not someone that I am familiar with. Come to think of it, this just might be my first issue from Avatar Press too. And this first experience has definitely been a good one. The script takes a while to get going but when it does, it is superb. And the art in general is quite good too.
The story is framed as the notes for a novel being written by a crewmember on the cargo ship Caliban. Nomi, the aforementioned crewmember, dreams of one day being a noted author and whenever the ship is in warp space, she writes down her thoughts and notes for the novel, musing about the nature of warp travel and the significance of human civilisation among a myriad other things. Initially, this approach appears to be rather clunky. I didn’t connect with the story until about two pages in, when I finally understood what was going on. The problem there I think was that Garth Ennis wasn’t clear with his framing device from the get go. And that affected my interest.
But once things started clicking together, I just rolled with the story all the way to the end. The pacing is pretty good by that point and the story really comes alive as the pages turn, one by one, one after another. All the characters, the crew of the Caliban, are interesting characters with lots of hints about what kind of people they are and what their personalities are like and what their relationships to each other. We don’t see the entire crew, but we see most of them, and it is fascinating to see I have to admit.
Garth Ennis writes the story as a ticking bomb. He keeps you comfortable with these characters about eighty percent of the way in and then he hits you on the head right out of your blind side. And its a good kind of hit too because it jars up the characters and really twists things around. Suddenly, the laws of physics as our characters understand them don’t seem to apply and they are faced with a great mystery.
And of this mystery is born the horror aspect of the comic. It is a bit subtle and not very in-your-face, which is a great thing. Reading through, Caliban #1 is definitely a great horror piece and Garth Ennis’ writing tends towards the subtle and the understated. He is looking to wrong-foot the reader again and again, working out their relationships and the situation they find themselves in until he’s prepped the reader for the twists. Gotta appreciate that. I read the issue twice just now, just to really get the story once again, and the experience is even more fascinating than before.
As I said, Facundo Percio is the artist here, with Sebastian Cabrol on the inks, Hernan Cabrera on the colours and Kurt Hathaway on the letters. The art style in this comic tends towards the simplistic.There are details on every page of course, but by and large I like what Percio does. His illustrations really provoke the horror nature of the comic, and once he gets going he is excellent all the way. Cabrol and Cabrera’s moody work rounds out the entire atmosphere and you really come to be wary of the dark corners of Caliban.
Caliban #1 is a comic that I started reading because of that (very) intriguing cover, done by Percio. It hints at what the story is about in this issue and it provides the horror framework that is at the core of this issue. But really, it is the story that is the best part of the whole thing. I didn’t expect to like this comic as much as I did, and I’m really glad that things turned out for the better.