May 12, 2016

, , , , , ,   |  

Satellite Falling #1 Should Be in Your Reading Orbit

Written by Steve Horton
Line Art by Stephen Thompson and Lisa Jackson
Letters by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW

Lilly is the lone human on Satellite, home to 74,999 other creatures who think of her as just another bigoted member of her species. In reality, she's a bounty hunter, losing herself in dangerous work to recover from personal tragedy. Her latest job might be a bit too much for even her to handle, however, in a wonderful opening issue to a sci-fi crime story with amazing artwork and a story to match.

I first encountered Steve Horton back when I was writing actively for Newsarama, with Amala's Blade, which I praised in a column there and then followed up by placing it on my Favorites List for 2013 here at Panel Patter. When Steve let me know he had a new comic coming out, I was extremely excited, and from the first page on, I wasn't disappointed.

Opening with a long view of Satellite, then moving in to a human cabbie who monologues while transporting an alien across the landscape, Horton sets up Lilly and allows Thompson a chance to show a bit of the world around her. Thompson's linework is sharp and crisp, reminding me strongly of what I think of as the 2000AD house style mixed with a more simplified (because almost no one can be just as complicated) George Perez. As we move across the pages, Lilly encounters more aliens, all of whom are extremely varied and distinct, ranging from shape-changers to humanoid bugs to those that remind me a bit of sharks. None directly homage aliens from other, better known properties, which I greatly appreciate.

The story itself will be familiar to those who read widely, both in prose and comics, in the crime/detective genre. Lilly is an outsider who gets involved in something far larger than she plans and may just get her killed. It's a very noir world, where lives are cheap and no one is above manipulation. Lilly herself  is a walking deception, which is both an advantage and disadvantage and is part of why she gets entangled in the mess that makes up the main story.

She's also queer, and one of the things I thought was particularly cool was how her alien boss reacts to this. I also like how Horton, who has always had a touch of feminism in his writing without being pedantic about it,* shows that even in alien cultures, there's a Patriarchy that isn't afraid to throw its weight around when pressured. The moment helps to galvanize just what Lilly is up against in this world she's chosen to live in.

There's a lot that happens in this first issue, and it moves quickly. Thompson and Jackson make sure the reader is grounded in absolutely gorgeous visuals. The panels flow strongly from one to the other, and Thompson refrains from using a single full-page splash, not even in the final reveal that creates a cliffhanger for the second issue. That means that there's plenty of room for reaction moments or short set-pieces that hammer home the decisions that Lilly makes. Thompson also works hard to keep the reader's view constantly changing, such as using a mix of worm's eye, medium, and behind the character looks while Lilly waits to meet a contact, allowing time to pass within the comic without that annoying static repetition trick that others use. With an eye for detail, Thompson fills in the space around Lilly and the others with small details, like other aliens and architecture, allowing readers to absorb the world without decompressing the story. Jackson's color palette is muted just enough to fit into the noir world created by Thompson, but without going down the road of grey and brown used by, say, Dave Stewart in his collaborations with Sean Phillips.

And that's without mentioning the absolute heartbreaking moment when Lilly finds out just how horrible some of the creatures in Satellite are in how their treat their fellow alients. Thompson knocks it out of the park, showing how pathetic the victims are, how much Lilly's target dismisses them, and how the whole thing impacts on Lilly personally. It's so very powerful, with each panel decision making the most of its space, including a 3-panel segment that sets Lilly off--and should bring a strong reaction to readers, too--without falling into shock value. It's one of the best sections of a comic I've read so far in 2016, and I'm not saying more because I want you to feel the impact for yourself.

Satellite Falling #1 is a great opening comic. Lilly's a broken character who is both brash and mysterious, in the vein of great noir characters. Horton's plot and dialogue fit the genre well, with adaptations for the space setting. Combined with Thompson's impeccable linework and a color scheme that keeps things strange without falling into comic-book color cliche, you're in for a treat. Anyone who reads Copperhead definitely needs to pick this one up, as its in a similar vein while feeling completely different. We're in such a great age for sci-fi comics, and Satellite Falling should be the next one in the conversation for comics you need to be reading.

*I really hate when writers whose politics align with mine decide to disguise essays into stories, hammering you with their message. Naturally, I hate it worse when writers whose politics don't align with mine do it, ruining a great series mid-stream with their racist fear-mongering.