Graphic novel review: Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Delliquanti

(courtesy Penguin Random House)

It is rare, so supremely rare, to find a story in any genre or format, that feels as if it simply cannot be improved on.

Many come close but few feel so immersively perfect, so vividly alive with character, narrative and faultless execution, that you can truly say they are as good as storytelling gets.

Across a Field of Starlight is very much in that rarefied camp, written and drawn by Blue Delliquanti with vivacity, compassion and empathetic insight, a story that sits firmly in the epic space opera camp, with all the narrative expansiveness that entails but which also goes intimate in ways that will touch your heart with a queer revelatory spirit that makes you glad the world, or in this case, the galaxy, is so gloriously and enrichingly diverse.

Allied with a rich storytelling brio is artwork so lavishly colourful and evocatively alive that characters immediately feel even more substantial than their utterances and narrative machinations suggest, and events feel more urgent and immediate, every last luxuriously realised frame making Across a Field of Starlight feel like an epic big screen movie racing showing at your local cinema.

Helping that sense of a massively important tale sprung to life that you absolutely must pay attention to is Delliquanti’s world-building which happens quickly, fulsomely and with a grounded sense of time and place with the introduction of one of the two protagonists, Lu, coming into existence by way of a gripping prologue that instantly feels like it was always existed.

There’s no laborious exposition or unnecessary plotting at work here – we meet Lu, get a sense of who she is and what matters to her and why meeting space wreck survivor Fassen comes to mean so much to her, and later them.

In 28 tautly-told pages, the stage is set with heartfelt emotion and a driving sense of real need, for a love story that will span years and vast distances of space as two non-binary people from wholly different worlds come to discover, as Across a Field of Starlight promises in its dedication at the start, that “a better world is possible”.

You don’t even have to think about it; one second you have no idea who Lu and Fassen are and the next they are two people so fully and resonantly alive that you wonder how on earth you managed to get by without them before this.

That’s a rare thing in itself, to know and appreciate and love characters so quickly, but it is emblematic of a graphic novel that tells its story with admirable economy and efficiency but never without a deep sense of humanity and an emotional intimacy that seeps happily and affectingly into every last frame.

(courtesy Penguin Randomhouse via Bleeding Cool)

Set against the backdrop of a fierce war of resistance between the militarist and somewhat extremist Fireback group and the Ever-Blossoming Empire which rules with an iron fist, a human face and a machine-led apparatus, Across a Field of Starlight is in many ways a clarion call to stand up to tyranny with everything you’ve got.

But every bit as importantly, and like more so, evidenced by several key pivotal moments when the two lead characters must decide whether they will heed what is right or what is expedient, is that in standing up to toxic autocracy you don’t become as terrible as those you oppose.

It’s all too easy when you are standing against great evil, and there’s no doubt the Ever-Blossoming Empire is evil with a neon-lit capital “E”, to justify all kinds of means if the end is finishing off an oppressively cruel regime but Delliquanti makes the point time and again, with sensitivite reasoning rather than blunt-forced argumentative trauma, that there is no point bringing such a barbaric system down if you’ve become as bad as them in the process.

In this respect, Across a Field of Starlight is a heartfelt love letter to humanity, every decision made by Lu and Fassen, influenced by what is right and not simply what will get the job done.

In many ways, Across a Field of Starlight is a study in brilliant contrasts with Lu, from a collective than operates far away from the Empire and the way it wages with Fireback and which preaches inclusivity and family, belonging and care, and Fassen, long a part of the rebel grouping and all too used to being used as a commodity rather than treated as a person, wholly different people in many important respects.

Different they may be but connected they most certainly are from the get-go with the prologue setting in train an unwavering connection that is sustained over many years by two people who do everything they can do to stay in touch.

It is this connection that is the beating heart of Across a Field of Starlight, and while the battles between the Ever-Blossoming Empire and Fireback consume a lot of page real estate in ways that are always enthralling and compelling – as noted, this is space opera at its finest and Delliquanti barely puts a foot wrong – we always come to the cosy intimacy of Lu and Fassen’s queer pocket of the universe which sings the praises of diversity and openness to others every last chance it gets.

Rich with a vibrancy of artwork that primes every frame to leap off the page with effervescent colour and evocative scene setting, and a narrative that drives hard and fast but which still always has time for contemplation and human intimacy between two characters who seize your heart and never let it go, Across a Field of Starlight is a delight on every front, a tale set far out into space that nevertheless always feel as close and inclusive as the endless beats of the closest heart.

(courtesy Penguin Randomhouse via Bleeding Cool)

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