Brian Azzarello, writer; Eduardo Risso, artist
Vertigo Comics, 2011
Spaceman reunites the creative team responsible for 100 Bullets for a different kind of noir story. Despite being launched with great fanfare–including a $1 premier issue–I feel that the miniseries never got the attention it deserved. Originally collected in a hardcover Deluxe Edition (the way I read it) it is now also available as a trade paperback. The collections include the prologue story from the Vertigo anthology Strange Adventures #1, the nine-issue miniseries, plus a few pages of character designs and preliminary art from Eduardo Risso.
Orson is a Spaceman, part of a group of children bio-engineered by NASA to withstand the rigors of extended space travel. The program ended in scandal, leaving Orson an oversized physical freak scraping out a living salvaging scrap metal from the rising waters that have flooded the world’s coastal cities. He still dreams of travelling to Mars. These dreams recur throughout the story. Initially a bit confusing–they are presented visually as if they are memories–they serve to help Orson deal with moral questions in his life.
The prologue presents the setup for the story in compact form: the dystopian society that has developed as the waters rise, and the background of the failed genetic experiment that created Orson. As the story proper opens he is heading out to sea to hunt for scrap as the whole world is buzzing about a celebrity kidnapping. A young girl named Tara has been taken while appearing in the reality show “The Ark,” a show in which a group of orphans compete for a spot in the household of a celebrity couple. It’s only slightly exaggerated from some shows currently on the air, making it a rare bit of direct social commentary from Azzarello. The whole social and economic setting is also directly extrapolated from current trends: it’s an even more bifurcated social structure of a few “haves” and many “have nots” created by extreme climate change.
Orson soon finds himself caught up in the kidnapping, as he happens upon the kidnappers and rescues Tara. It seems that the whole world wants a piece of Tara–with fame and ransom competing–and Orson may be the only one who just desires her safety. Among the many hunting for her is another Spaceman, the first sign that others in Orson’s childhood group have survived. His motives are unclear until the very end: he does help get Tara to safety, but he is angling to get the credit. Despite using Orson as a fall guy, he arranges for his release from prison into the Dries. So the final scenes are ambiguous: Orson is unjustly branded as a criminal, yet he has also made it into privileged society.
Azzarello’s invention of a future slang for the new underclass (similar to the one employed by novelist Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange) has been a barrier for some readers. In the end I thought that the slang worked well. It’s a bit of a struggle to read at first–which could be an insurmountable obstacle for some–but it’s quite logical, and comes to seem pretty natural after awhile. Spaceman depicts a radically altered, dystopian world, so it seems reasonable that slang like this would develop, at least among the have-nots. While it could be argued that the story would have worked without it, it adds to the unique atmosphere. I look forward to rereading the series, and I think the rich created language is part of that.