The Disciples #1
Created by Steve Niles and Christopher Mitten
Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
Lettered by Thomas Mauer
Black Mask Studios
Space really freaks some people out. I look up at the stars and I'm filled with wonder. What's out there? Who's out there? But, pretty much any place there is wonder there's also an opportunity to be terrified. The unknown, the vast emptiness of it, the lack of opportunities to get help if there's a problem, the likelihood that anything we meet out there will be something for which we are woefully unprepared...ok now I'm a little terrified too. Just recently in comics, Nameless, Roche Limit and Southern Cross have dealt with weird threats in space. Looking more broadly, I'd never really want to go into space if it's anything like Aliens, Solaris or Event Horizon, or the one where Johnny Depp is an astronaut.
That brings us to The Disciples. What's creepier than space? Creepy fanatical religious cults. Combine the two together, and you've got the potential for something really interesting. This first issue is mostly a setup issue but it hints at a big, weird, scary story, while establishing a claustrophobic atmosphere and a looming sense of dread.
At first glance, it doesn't feel like that much happens here, but this first issue actually accomplishes plenty. We meet the crew of the Venture; the ship's owner Rick, Jules, and Dagmar, who's the pilot and who has been ill at ease since before the mission even left. The story so far doesn't delve into the backstory of the characters, but we learn enough about them to get the point. They're an experienced crew and have been working together for a while, and there's a humor and familiarity among them. From the very beginning of the comic, something isn't right, and only Dagmar seems to know it. She's unsettled, and things feel off to her. Her sense of unease effectively sets the tone for the mission. Things are slightly off - a mission control that's slightly delayed in responding, a takeoff that goes slightly wrong; all of these things help set the scene.
We get hints at the world in which the characters live, accomplished by both the art and the writing. This is a future where the rich has gotten richer, and the ability to travel throughout the solar system has only exacerbated this trend. Instead of the wealthy staking out an exclusive compound or a tropical island, they can now claim parts of moons for themselves, and the rest of us are left on what is presumably an Earth that continues to go on its current negative trajectory.
So much of what's great and weird and creepy about the book is accomplished by the great art from Christopher Mitten, with colors from Jay Fotos. Mitten has a rough, vibrant style that provides enough detail for the characters and the locations in the story, but lets your mind fill in the rest of the details. Combined with slightly washed-out, grimy coloring from Fotos, this feels like a lived-in world. The future is a place where things get dirty, and things don't look all that different from the present day, just in slightly more remote locations (the Jetsons this is not). A lived-in feel is a common look for science fiction stories (the original Star Wars, Alien, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, the recent Southern Cross) but it works here and helps establish for the reader that this is a world not so unlike our own, a world of darkness, shadows and worn out hallways and corriders beyond which terrible things may be lurking. You could tell a creepy horror story about a star ship if you set it in something that looked like the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it's a harder sell to combine utopian gleaming sci-fi and grisly horror*.
There's a nice variety of art and setting in the story (even given the limited number of locations. When the crew uses their super fast locations to travel to Jupiter, we get a vivid few pages displaying the visual effect of using their warp engines (or however the engines are referred to here) - the coloring by Fotos in those sequences gives those few pages a dynamic, electric feel. Mitten also does nice work with very small gestures, as seen in the above sequence involving the necessary "greasing the wheels" one has to do to move their travel along in this world. The only real change between the middle left and right panels is the eyes of the inspector, but that sequence says a ton and really conveys all of the unspoken communication. While their styles are somewhat different, this subtle work with gestures reminded me of some of the work done by Michael Lark in Lazarus (which is meant as the highest of praise).
I would be remiss if I didn't note that this is a horror comic, and if the last page here is any indication (it's some highly detailed, unsettling, pretty disgusting stuff), readers are in for a terrifically scary, weird ride. If you enjoy the idea of being terrified in cramped spaces, you should give The Disciples a look.
* I'd like to see someone try that; maybe they have and I just don't know the story.