Thursday, September 20, 2012


Written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Eduardo Risso, Spaceman is short story excellence, bar none.  In fact, this may be my favorite book of 2012.  At a concise 9 issues it told a complete, engaging and thought provoking story.  If Vertigo keeps putting out books like this, Jim will have to eat his words about the weakness of the line for sure.

Set in a dystopian near future Earth, Spaceman focuses on Orson, a genetically engineered humanoid who, with an unknown other products of the same engineering, was created to send on missions to Mars.  In the present setting of the story the program has ended and the Spacemen have been abandoned to make their own way in the world.  In flashbacks the mission of Orson, Carter, Ottershaw and Spender is shown.

The flashbacks lay out a simple story.  Meteors are hitting the Mars base and a greenhouse that supplies the four with food is in need of a manual fix.  Orson volunteers for the suicide mission but survives, though the greenhouse does not.  Searching for a new mission, Carter discovers gold veins exposed by the meteor strikes.  Spender opposes the taking of the gold for their own profit and winds up dead, either accidentally or at Carter's hand.  Ottershaw becomes paranoid that Carter will kill him next, but the three reconcile eventually.

Of course, they never got back to Earth with the gold.  Global warming has caused seas to rise so that NYC is underwater to a large extent.  Buildings still stand above the water line but the bases are submerged.  People travel via boat, like Venice, only run down.  Not far away there are areas with high walls and dry land behind them, so it's the poor who live in the flooded areas, eeking an existence.

In this water environ lives Orson, solitary, mildly drug addicted and depressed.  His heroics on Mars long forgotten, Orson is a junk man.  He takes a boat with a crane out to pull up metal from underwater, selling the metal to get by.  He gets by with a drug dropped on the tongue from an eye dropper.  His dealer is a kid of about 12.  He has a tablet device that he uses to chat with a naked chick named Lily, though she doesn't see him.

All of this Earth environment Azzarello and Risso establish in just a half dozen or so pages of the first issue.  Hard to beat that kind of efficiency in story.  To top it off, Azzarello develops dialog for his downtrodden cast that reflects a possible devolution/evolution of the English we speak today.  Take this statement by one of Orson's urchin allies in the 4th issue when they've just found out he might be a kidnapper.  "You brainin loco -- big rubble for you, say?  Law Dawgs in hot pursuit!"  Translated, that's "You're crazy - big trouble for you, I'm telling you.  Police are after you!"  I love the kind of labor put into not just making a new language but making it recognizable to the reader without too much effort.  It's something of a reverse of a modern reader working out what Shakespeare wrote in what was common language at his time.

So that's the groundwork.  A beautiful foundation it is, and the story that unfolds within its confines is something of a critique of shallow pop culture to the point of ignoring the imminent threats of the world, such as global warming.

Tara is an orphan who won a place in the family of wealthy stars via their reality TV show "The Ark".  It's a clear reference to Brad Pitt and Angolina Jolie's adoption of orphans from around the world, and I suppose other celebrities like Madonna, too.  Thrown into it is the whole reality TV nonsense to emphasize the vacuous of both reality TV and celebrity cultures, with their obvious overlap. 

Tara is kidnapped to be taken by an Arab sheikh who likes young girls.  Bit of an old stereotype, that one, but a minor element.  Orson runs across the kidnappers while out in a dangerous area of the seas looking for scrap.  Tara ends up rescued by Orson from the kidnappers and some other dangerous characters.  Bit of Somali pirates in that.

From there its Orson and his urchin friends' travails in trying to protect Tara from Carter, who's now a mercenary and is hired by the sheikh to get her, and from Lily's friends who decide to become the new kidnappers of Tara when Lily realizes she's with Orson.  Not that Lily thinks that's what they're doing.  She wants to rescue Tara herself, big fan of the show as she is.

There are two detectives hunting for Tara, too.  They keep running into the idiocies of the reality TV show production and its lawyer who continiually hinder their efforts by requiring agreements for appearing on the show, as the lives of the celebrities are constantly filmed, and by entering into their own agreements with kidnappers.

There are several twists and turns and much violence as the hunt for Tara and the effort to return Tara to her adoptive celebrity parents unharmed conflict.  In the end, just when Orson may become the hero of the day, he loses.  When he gets out of prison, a short stint for him and Lily, he's still alone, perhaps more so, as Lily abandons him and his new friend, Tara, is behind security barriers.  On the plus side, he's now living in the dry lands.

I loved the commentary that wasn't overly blunt.  It was background to the story of Orson and Tara, not a necessary touchstone to make a point.  The points were made but didn't detract or distract.  More importantly, I'd love to see more stories in this milieu.  I'd prefer more stories with Orson, but Carter would be an interesting central character, as would Lily, Ottershaw or the band of urchins.  When a short story tells a complete story and still leaves you wanting more, that's some good story.

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