If you read enough space operatic science fiction, it becomes clear that the far and even near reaches of the galaxy are an endlessly exciting place of intrigue, mystery and anti-humdrum.
But what if that’s not entirely the case and that being out amongst the stars is all bit been-there-done-that, got the asteroid-sized dents on the hull of the spaceship to prove it?
Well, then, you would have Sea of Stars, a brilliantly imaginative graphic novel series by writers Jason Maron and Dennis Hallum with art by Stephen Green, that begins with a stultifyingly boring trip across a few million light years by long-haul space trucker Gil who’s taken his son Kadyn along for the ride.
To be fair, it’s Kadyn, not Gil who’s finding space so “crapping boring”; Gil, a single dad with few babysitting options, is simply doing his job, transporting priceless museum exhibits from Krogarr 9’s Museum of Space History which had a recent unfortunate collision with meteor and came out all the poorer.
He needs the money and as a grown-up knows that doing what you need to survive isn’t always going to be superexciting.
But try telling that to Kadyn who’s yearning for “blackholes or exploding stars” and even, and wouldn’t this be cool, Quarksharks, great ferocious beasts of the interstellar deep who go around looking for a tasty morsel or two to chomp on.
Gil isn’t that excited by that idea, simply wanting to get home, keep his son safe and rebuild his life after recent devastating tragedy.
So far, so ho-hum … until a space leviathan chooses to chow down on their spacecraft and Gil and Kadyn find themselves flung out into space, battling for survival, in a turn of events that should thrill Kadyn but pretty much leaves him wishing his dad was nearby and things were back to boring again.
This is where Sea of Stars gets really interesting and starts having a whole lot of gloriously over-the-top super-imaginative fun with Kadyn rescued, reluctantly it must be added, by a space monkey and a space dolphin, best pals who initially think the young earth boy would make a rather nice snack.
But then they realise he’s alive sans helmet and oxygen and intrigued by an impossible act of survival, sticks close by the exuberant nine-year-old who decides that space is ridiculous damn cool, after all.
Why Kadyn is defying the odds with all the chutzpah a young boy on a wild and unceasingly exciting adventure can muster, and it’s a considerable amount, Gil is racing after him, trying to get him back from whatever danger is encircling him.
To say much more plot-wise would be to give away some fairly key points in what is an epic piece of space opera fuelled with some fantastical elements that lend a decidedly Alice in Wonderland feel to proceedings, with nonsensical creatures, outlandish characters and wild improbabilities all finding a pleasing home in a story that comes down to sheer survival and father and son bonds in the face of great trauma and grief.
It’s a mix of the serious and the out there that works a total treat, with Maron and Hallum crafting a story that is wildly entertaining while striking all the right notes as an exploration of the human condition under considerable and unrelenting emotional stress.
Helping things out immensely is the luminously colourful and profoundly imaginative artwork by Green who brings the story to life in ways that go beyond making it all seem very possible, leaving you convinced this is how deep space really must be.
Green’s art is so vivaciously creative and alive, so infused with life that you can easily believe there are Quarksharks, space monkeys and dolphins, and roving bands of pagan-worshipping tribal peoples roaming the planets and stars just beyond our solar system.
The fantastical becomes eminently real on Sea of Stars but even more than that, it feels grounded in the kind of broken, lost humanity that is typical of people in a post-traumatic place.
Neither Gil nor Kadyn really knows that the world looks like anymore without the person they have collectively lost, and Sea of Stars captures this feeling of being adrift and marooned in grief perfectly, as it does the frantic panic that Gil feels with his son lost in space, and the enthusiastic euphoria of Kadyn discovering that maybe life has more in store for him that he could ever have envisaged.
The series is so full of humanity and heart mixed in with its whimsical fantasticality that you are fly through every issue, eager to see where Sea of Stars takes you next – deep into the recesses of the human soul or to a planet full of floating buildings … or both?
Why not both?
Sea of Stars has it all, a series that knows that sometimes what you need in the midst of loss and pain is to know life can spark into a furious fire possibility again, even if maybe, once it’s done that, it could maybe dial things down again a bit?
Oh, who are we kidding? Having the dial turned up to 100 is fine by us, and Kadyn, much less Gil, and it’s exciting to imagine where things could go next in coming issues of this most remarkable of stories.