MYSTERY IN SPACE, SAGA, & PROPHET: Rediscovering Science Fiction Comics

Once in awhile, a comic will come along that helps you remember the very notion of what brought you to comics in the first place, with stories that clearly came from the minds of creative people who spent their dreams at what normal people would consider the fringes on imagination.  Stories that took the covers of magazines like Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction and brought them to life with pen and inks. Mystery in Space #1 brought those feelings back for me, complete with its fantastical cover, and reminded me just how much I love science fiction in my comics.

I guess one could argue that most of the comics I read have some science fiction in them, but you know what I mean–the stories in Mystery in Space went arm in arm with the adventures of John Prophet in Prophet and the daring escape of a young family that has been riveting us in the pages of Saga.  This is the kind of story telling that really feels more comfortable in the reals of speculative fiction, which seems to the high-brow way of discussing any kind of story that features talking robots or laser guns, and the kind of thing that comic books can do really, really well.

I don’t buy a lot of anthologies, not out of any kind of dislike for them, but I never seem to hear about them (well, Ron always tells us about Dark Horse Presents and I promise to pick them up, really), and my steady diet of mainstream comics seems to keep me busy enough, thank you very much, but when I saw Mystery in my DC Comics app on my iPad, it was a total no brainer. Ryan’s Sook’s beautiful cover exemplified the promise within these virtual pages, with an image of what could only be described as an angel-astronomer mapping out the universe inside a great observatory.  This is the kind of fiction that I needed.

I am not going to go through the all of the stories in this 75-page tome, but suffice to say, like any anthology, there were some stories that really stood out, stories that would otherwise probably not make it to the light of day.  Unlike the science fiction stories I enjoyed from Marvel (Guardians of the Galaxy), these shorts spent less time in the normal trappings of science fiction (the warp engines and laser cannon variety) and more in slightly edgier and often more dystopian venues.

Indeed, in this modern age, which would be considered science fiction just fifty years ago (reading full color comics about space trash vaporizes and centaur love stories on a portable piece of glass and steel qualifies, I think), the stories that I have been reading have been far less about the technological wonders of “the future,” focusing more on themes of emotional isolation instead of interplanetary exploration.  The pressures of being miles underwater or above the atmosphere drive the characters more into themselves, ripping apart their sense of what they know as they struggle to maintain the relationship with humanity (not to mention their sanity). And the more fantastical the worlds become (again, the star-crossed centaurs come to mind), the more basic the struggles become — Saga touches on this as well; talking televisions heads aside, these new parents just need a place to call their home.

Mike Allred’s story in Mystery was one of the biggest departures, exposing thoughts that many of those who have experimented with various hallucinogenics (or the nitrous from a whipped cream can) might find familiar: the very notion of existence and one’s relationship with the “now” and our perception of existence, how, at the very same time, we are experiencing the end and the beginning of life itself. (I will add that meditation is a valuable, safe and easy way to ponder these same concepts, perhaps with less talking aliens but still rewarding.) I also quite enjoyed how the various creators used the trappings of typical science fiction to get readers comfortable with relationships that may feel as unfamiliar as zero-gravity—the story “Contact High” comes to mind. While the concept of a “trash collector” in space may not seem ground breaking, I did enjoy how writer Robert Rodi made the idea of a gay threesome relationship seem basically pedestrian.  Love (and lack of) can make one crazy, regardless of what century it is might be.

Prophet has been a real great read, just because the book is both so damn weird and so damn compelling at the same time. Techno-organic gadgets and tools are nothing new, but the way Brandon Graham, Simon Roy and the other creators just do such a good job of making it feel normal. The dispassionate tone of the narrator undercuts the oftentimes bizarre and gently unsettling problems Prophet has to deal with, and I love the way he just does what he is supposed to do, just trusts these dreams to guide him to do what is necessary.

Another theme in these stories revolves around the loss one of one’s individuality as their reasons for being are co-opted by the military or faceless corporation.  This is a well-worn theme, of course, but it just seems to become more appropriate every passing year. As technology modernizes manufacturing and computers make it easier to do more with fewer people, the notion of the value of human capital changes, and many of these stories revisit the notion of humans being stored up in pods, used only when necessary.  The Matrix tackled this idea memorably, basically using humans as batteries to keep technology going.  In these stories, the human is awoken for a specific goal, where instinct and creativity are needed–often to fight other creatures with instinct and creativity.

These visions of the future seem to take place much farther into the future than in years past; the lessons we learned from 2001: A Space Odyssey are still fresh, I suppose.  Indeed, many of these stories occur well after “the future” has happened — there are lots of deserted, rusting space ships, overgrown with plants and vines, relics more in keeping with Mayan temples than gleaming Federation starships. Indeed, we are reminded time and time again, that long after all these man-made wonders are destroyed, generations after their battles have been forgotten, it is life that endures.

After reading stories like these, I realize just how “closed” my mind has become. Like, I never think of stories like this. I mean, I love stories like Dan Dare and Guardians of the Galaxy, but I rarely get so…thoughtful when I imagine these kinds of stories.  I think more in terms of “how can we travel faster than light?” and focus on what may be possible based on what I know now, as opposed to letting myself focus on elements like character and theme and using the place/era as a supporting element, not a defining one. Creating stories that are speculative fiction can be, in a way, more daunting in a way for people like us who are used to reading all kind of stories set in “non-real” times, where we try to make everything make sense, as opposed to making great stories. For me, being able to read these stories reminds me of what is possible, not only for the characters in a particular story, but what is possible a story teller.  I am glad DC released Mystery in Space, it reminded me just how much I needed it.

 


Mike Romo is an actor in LA. You can reach him through email, visit his facebook page, and follow him on twitter. If, you know, you want.

 

 

Comments

  1. Ya the new prophet is a comics gem.. .. and i loved DnA’s Guardians of the Galaxy and im not even a “Sci fi” or “space opera” guy.
    Try Negation (Tony Bedard) from the defunct Crossgen. You can get it at a buck an issue online at “certain” shops. Best comics sci fi I can remember reading. Ill keep spinning my broken record and you sir.. you should track down negation. Satisfaction guaranteed or my name isnt Ian Famebright.

    • Yes!

      Negation is Awesome!

    • Negation was one of the fines sci-fi action books of all time. RIP Crossgen. And all their wonderful not-super-hero titles.

      WHY DID MARVEL HAVE TO SCREW UP THE REVIVAL SO BAD?!

    • Well it seems to me.. for one… marvel didnt pick the best Crossgen titles to start out with. Most of the titles they chose to “revive” were the weaker Crossgen books. Mystic especially was almost an improvement. Also mini series scream “we arent committed to these books”. If they came right out with ongoing books with at least 1 high profile writer/artist team in the mix then we would have had more support. In my opinion the new crossgen stuff was OK.. but forgettable … AND FORGETTABLE WAS EXACTLY WHAT CROSSGEN WASNT.

  2. Love the sic-fi resurgence, wish Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova would come back!

    Oooooooh, Rom would be great too! I guess there are too many legal issues though…

  3. I didn’t realize just how much I am into science fiction until fairly recently, but it’s a huge part of why I enjoy comics, genre fiction, and really, superheroes. This has been a great time for sci-fi fans in comics.

  4. The Science Fiction resurgence has been really rocking my world lately. Its a great time to be a fan of comics and Science Fiction.

    PS: Are you a Science Fiction fan? Read 2000 AD. Full. Stop.

  5. Timmy Wood Timmy Wood (@TimmyWood) says:

    I have been feeling this same way Mike. Loving Prophet and Saga and I keep forgetting to grab that Vertigo anthology. Also the other day I was trying to hunt down some Jim Starlin Marvel Cosmic stuff on Amazon.

    I would love a new Marvel or DC cosmic book again. Adam Strange is a favorite of mine.

  6. Thanks for that Mike, I’ve not actually tried Prophet. Maybe I will now. I did stump up several quid for Mystery in Space and it was indeed a mixed bag (he said, politely). Sign me up, too, for an Adam Strange series, perhaps anchoring a monthly Strange Adventures $3.99 book. And in the classic suit rather than the more recent clunky thing.

  7. Other great science fiction comics currnetly being publishes:

    RASL (concluding soon)
    Spaceman
    Saucer Country
    Manhattan Projects
    Resident Alien
    Higher Earth
    Mind MGMT

    Upcoming Science Fiction comics:
    Hypernaturals
    Collider
    Planetoid
    The Massive

    And more I’m probably forgetting. Just so much sci-fi these days. Its wonderful.

    • Liking the start of manhattan projects.. and im intrigued by saucer county as well.

    • Saucer Country, Resident Alien, and Manhattan Projects are all fantastic books, some of the best books being published now, along with Saga. Higher Earth started off fairly average, but I’m hoping it’ll pick up.

      I’m really excited for Planetoid and The Hypernaturals. The FCBD issue of Hypernaturals was really fun!

  8. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great year for SF. Prophet, Saga, Planetoid, Spaceman, Manhattan Projects. Planet of the Apes. I’d include Secret Avengers too. Looking forward, DnA’s Hypernaturals has potential.

    • I really enjoyed the Free Comic Book Day issue of Hypernaturals, and I’ll definitely pick it up when it’s out in the stores. Higher Earth was also a great first issue, if you want to jump on, now is the time.

    • Oh, and Spaceman. Very cool book.

  9. I’d put most of Hickman’s Fantastic Four run in the Sci-fi camp as well.

  10. I ordered some of the past Dark Horse Presents books on TFAW for nice discounts — some of them at 60% off. These anthologies have terrific sci-fi tales in every issue.

  11. Prophet is THE greatest thing in comics right now.

  12. Mystery in Space, Prophet and Saga have made me realize I love pure wacky Sci-Fi a lot more than I thought I did, I really hope more stuff like this keeps coming

  13. Last year, Kirkman talked about a cime thriller in the vein of Outland that would take place aboard a space transport full of oil or something but I can’t find anything about it. Does anybody remember this? He made it sound like a 2012 release.

  14. I’ve always been more into capes comics but both Saga and Saucer Country have me hooked.

    The great thing for me about sci-fi comics has been their ability to open me up to non-superhero titles. Its an eay gateway drug into things like Manhattan Projects and then into the action genre with stuff like Activity, Dancer or Secret.

    More genre comics is always a good idea.

  15. Hey Mike, if you feel like stepping into the wayback machine:

    http://amzn.to/KKNKOf