Comics review: Sea of Stars (issues 1-3)

(image courtesy Image Comics)

There is something about the wide reaches of spaces that damn near screams out for sprawling, epic space operas. (Not that anyone in space can literally hear you call out but figurative screams are not required, thankfully, to heed the cumbersome laws of physics.)

Fortunately for anyone who craves great, big epics full of fights for survival, political and social intrigue and exotic worlds that also feel intimately, unnervingly familiar, those high-volume, screachy calls have not gone unanswered with a slew of very talented creators coming to the party.

One of the latest to join them are co-writers Jason Aaron (Southern Bastards) and Dennis Hallum (Cloak & Dagger) who, along with artist Stephen Green (Hellboy and the BPRD) have crafted a suitably huge adventure story set in space that Hallum described to Deadline as “equal parts Jack Kirby, Finding Nemo, and The Road“.

If that sounds like a disparate group of influences, the writers hear you loud and clear with Hallum going on to point out that while the two stories contained within sounds totally different, there is some unity of theme and narrative.

“This is a story about a father and son who get separated. In the wildest reaches of outer space. And from there, it becomes very important that this series has two writers. Because Dennis and I are basically doing two radically different perspectives on the same sort of deep space journey.” (Comics Beat)

In other words, while their stories are vastly different in tone, they very much align in scope and theme, each focused on a struggle for survival which, despite their differing ages and situations, carry the same tension and weight.

Their quest for survival and to be reunited falls against the backdrop of horrendous grief, with the very recent loss of wife and mother Gina still very much in the open wound phase of grieving.

The fragility and pain of the new normal that confronts intergalactic trucker Gil Starx and his young son Kadyn is brought powerfully to the fore from the get-go, manifesting for Gil as sadness-tinged exasperation mixed with the very real need not to lose much-needed work and for Kadyn as resentment that he’s on a trip with his dad, when he’d rather be home … well, we all know who he’d like to be home with.

“I never wanted to come on this stupid trip in the first place.”

“I told you, son. I couldn’t ask any of our neighbours to watch you for so many days.”

There’s no suggestion they don’t love each other but in the awkward, awful adjustment period that follows great loss, neither are certain about exactly where they sit in relation to one another.

As the narrative recap at the start of issue #2 says, they have “too much time to talk and none of the right words …”, a scenario that will be familiar to anyone who’s come out the other side of the death someone very dear to them and is wondering what the hell they do now.

(image courtesy Image Comics)

Life, of course, goes on, as is demonstrated by Gil’s need to take on the run to Krogarr 9 to pick up museum specimens for transport back to Earth, and yet neither Gil nor Kadyn quite knows how to respond to the fact that the realities of life have no time for grief, pain or loss.

Aaron and Hallum capture this beautifully, imbuing the father-son dynamic between Gil and Kadyn with a love-stretched-thin vibe, that portrays two people who still love each other but can’t get a handle on how to express that anymore.

Eventually they will find a way, but before that can happen, and let’s face it, it won’t be in the space of one week-long gig, events intervene with a giant space leviathan making a beeline for their ship, the gloriously-cheesily named The Porkship Comet, with the kind of intent that suggests it has a beef with the occupants.

Quite what that could be mystfies Gil who, anyway has to try and get he and Kadyn to some kind of safety, a goal that becomes infinitely harder to realise when events conspire to split them up and the two of them go completely different but as noted thematically similar journeys which, as Hallum points out, come with completely different sets of experiences.

“While the kid finds himself suddenly gifted with a wondrous power that allows him to joyfully swim his way through the stars alongside some talking space animals, the dad is alone and fighting for his life every step of the way against the most dangerous and inhospitable environment imaginable. And then there’s the matter of the giant space monster that seems to have a strange interest in both father and son.” (Comics Beat)

It as big and epic as you could for with finely-wrought characters and a phalanx of space monsters, who both befriend and terrify our inadvertently intrepid separated father-son duo and yet it feel immersively, emotionally intimate as Gil and Kadyn deal with the the emotional fallout of their loss of their wife and mother respectively in scenarios that don’t exactly allow time to sit and muse.

Balancing not just two wholly different yet connected narratives and some fairly intense emotional rumination is a tricky thing to do but Aaron and Hallum manage it masterfully, augmented by Green’s gorgeously-expansive art which is both suitably massive in scope – this is a space opera, after all – and yet powerfully intimate, especially when he zooms in to each character’s faces which are the windows to their conflicted souls.

Granted Kadyn looks to be having a much finer time of it than Gil – who wouldn’t enjoy being gifted with the ability to swim through space, suddenly-imbued superhero powers in hand? – but the two of them need each other fiercely, something that comes through both narratives time and again.

They are reacting to things differently it’s true but that’s mostly circumstance more than attitude, and throughout the three issues, as the action ramps up and the stakes growing ever bigger for father and son, we come to see that though they’re on epic journeys through space, the greater trip for both of them is going to be coming to grips with an emotional world they no longer recognise.

(image courtesy Image Comics)

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