September 26, 2018

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Vault Week: Wasted Space Vol. 1

 

Wasted Space Vol. 1
Written by Michael Moreci
Illustrated by Hayden Sherman
Colors by Jason Wordie
Letters by Jim Campbell
Published by Vault Comics

Wasted Space is an absolute blast. It’s a fun, raunchy, sometimes hilarious series with terrific art that also happens to be a compelling story and a sharp allegory for present-day American politics, along with having some insightful thoughts about religion and faith. A lot of crazy stuff happens in its first volume, and I strongly recommend you give this book a read.

At one time Billy Bane was beloved as a religious figure, a prophet even. He hears and sees the Creator (as one does sometimes). He seemed to be able to predict the future, so people listened to him even when he told people that they should support future galactic leader, Devolous Yam. They did support Yam, and now Yam’s become a dictator and taken away people's rights and engulfed the galaxy in war. Everybody (not unjustifiably) blames Billy. So now he’s persona non-grata throughout the galaxy, traveling around after having disguised his appearance. He travels around space with a sex-bot (excuse me, a “Fuq Bot”) named Dust who serves as their sole earner of income, and something of a pragmatic, neurotic conscience for Billy.

But there’s a new self-proclaimed prophet now, Jacob, whose daughter Molly Sue also seems to be able to predict the future (and also seems to be blessed or cursed with the ability to hear and see the Creator). But Jacob isn't a prophet so much as an opportunist, using Molly Sue for his own personal gain. And Jacob also has a son named Rex, who happens to be heavily involved in a revolutionary anarchist movement to overthrow the government. Thankfully for Molly Sue she escapes, and makes her way to Billy and Dust. She believes there’s more for her and Billy to do, to save the galaxy. Billy just wants to drink and medicate away he rest of his life in obscurity. And...I don't want to say any more about the plot; I’ll just say that a lot of crazy shit goes down.

I really enjoyed this first volume. This is a genuinely entertaining series with a real sense of personality, thanks to the fantastic team effort from Moreci, Sherman, Wordie and Campbell. The creative team has created what feels like an organic, lived-in world that’s messy and full of contradictions and complexity. This is a series that feels so smart that it’s not afraid to be dumb sometimes because the creative team knows that high and low art are arbitrary distinctions, and don’t need to be separate. Wasted Space is a really nice mix of smart social and religious satire and commentary (even in the future, radical and angry movements recruit vulnerable and awkward teens on message boards by making them feel special), trenchant political humor (the tyrannical leader has the last name of an orange vegetable), and the occasional dick joke. Moreci also has a fantastic ear for dialogue, with the distinctive voices of the various characters really coming across to the reader.

Wasted Space is a perfect example of synthesis between story and art, as the stellar work of Sherman and Wordie perfectly execute what feels like the mission of the story. The art depicts a vivid vision of a grounded, lived-in universe. The world has some grime to it, and this view of the future feels natural and resonated with me as I read along. This universe isn’t a post-scarcity techno-utopia, quite the contrary. That makes Hayden Sherman a perfect artist to bring all of this to life. Sherman has a great rough style; he’s technically very skilled but his linework makes me think of underground or alternative comics--like a slightly more restrained Jim Mahfood. I’ve been a fan of Sherman’s work since reading the fantastic miniseries The Few (written by Sean Lewis), one of my favorite miniseries of the last few years. His work there was really spare and striking (almost like Japanese woodblock carvings), which gave me a chance to see his angular, “messy” lines that still make perfect sense and skillfully tell a story. People aren’t “realistically” rendered but everything and everyone within the world makes sense relative to one another. This book wouldn’t make as much sense if rendered with a super clean or a more cartoony style.
But Sherman is an artist with much more than just a really unique, interesting set of pencils (though that very much is the case). He’s also a superb illustrator of places, spaces, and geography and a terrific sequential storyteller. When Billy and Dust stand and look up at a huge futuristic cityscape, Sherman’s lines really sell the size and shape of the buildings. And as I moved from panel to panel and page to page, I never had any confusion on where I am, where I’m supposed to be looking, or what’s happening. Sherman’s a really strong depicter of action sequences, as he’s got a great sense of how to create tension by moving from one character to another to set up a big reveal or a surprise moment. And his action is great and fluid and never loses its sense of place in the story.

I loved Sherman’s minimally colored art in The Few so much that I worried that having his art colored would diminish the detail and otherwise take away from what Sherman’s art accomplishes. Well, I needn’t have worried, because Wordie does fantastic work that is additive to Sherman’s lines, and tells a story in its own right. When I got back into comics as an adult, about ten years ago, it took me a little while to figure out what I wanted from comic book colors and what the “purpose” of the coloring is and what constitutes “good” coloring. For my money, a colorist’s job is not to realistically convey a world, but they are there to tell a story just as much as the artist and writer. As soon as I saw that Wordie was involved, I knew the story was in good hands. Wordie was the colorist on God Country (more religious themes!), another one of my favorite miniseries of the past few years. In that story, Wordie brought a wonderfully timeless quality to the art, and was equally at home coloring intimate and intense family moments, and huge cosmic space-god battles, and fusions of the two. 

In Wasted Space, Wordie further shows his versatility as an artist. Sherman’s lines are a lot less realistically rendered than that of Geoff Shaw (artist of God Country), so a flatter, less rendered coloring style is called for. These colors are incredibly bright and weird and varied, but they also really help sell the idea that the galaxy is a complex, messy, ramshackle place. Wordie renders backgrounds with complex atmospheric colors, and sometimes uses cool effects like pixelation. These color changes often serve as a great indicator of mood and personality of a character, or to convey a change in tone, and sometimes I think they’re just there because they look really great (which I totally support as well).

The book has an overall very strong look and design. I’ve only recently started reading some Vault Comics, and I’ve been impressed overall. Wasted Space has great, fun, science-fiction appropriate design, and this strong design work extends to the lettering from Campbell, who always does strong work. In this story, he makes some nice choices regarding the different fonts, colors and word balloon choices of the various characters, so that the lettering work is additive and distinctive without being distracting. It’s very much part of the story, which is what I want as a reader.

Now that I've talked about the more technical elements of the comic and hopefully piqued your interest, I'd like to take a more detailed look at some of the ideas in Wasted Space.

This is (in part) a story about people hearing the word of God and choosing to follow it or not follow it. So it’s hard for me not to start my thinking about this series in comparison with the Hebrew Bible (probably better known as the Christian “Old Testament”). A recurring theme in scripture is those who heard the voice of God (and their response). Typically it’s one of faith and belief, but some have turned away from the speaker. The overarching lesson of these stories is that while it’s very hard to ignore what God tells you to do, it’s equally hard (if not harder) to do exactly what God tells you to do. 


There’s Noah, of course, who did exactly what God asked and saved his family and the animals and watched the rest of the world perish. He also seemed to maybe have become an alcoholic afterwards and the experience seems to have ruined him and messed up his family. Well, no kidding, he was a righteous man for his time, and he believed God wanted him and his family to survive while God drowned the rest of the entire world. I would have problems adjusting to that as well. I’m reminded a little bit of the story of Billy here, as his following of God’s word also lead to suffering, for civilization as a whole but also for Billy personally. In Billy’s case, he drinks, he does drugs--anything he can to numb the pain and guilt that he feels. This is something that comes through abundantly clear to the story. Billy was a man of faith, he believed in the message that the creator was telling him, even as he felt there was something wrong about it, and he worried that spreading this message could count suffering, he embraced his faith and let his faith override his sense of morality and judgment.

In some ways this story is also a clever inverse of the Exodus story, where Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai, and eventually to the promised land. in Wasted Space, people are following the words of Billy, and he uses his power and influence to tell them to embrace the new galactic leader. Only here, the word of the prophet led the people into war and suffering (oops, sorry about that). And like Moses, who did everything God told him to do but still didn’t get to cross into the promised land, Billy did exactly what his Creator told him to do, and he and everyone else ended up in a world of crap. Apparently, following the word of God doesn’t guarantee positive results.



There’s a ton of interesting ideas raised here. Let’s say (for purposes of discussion) that there is a God and that God is the creator of the universe and overseeing all civilization. This God may be all-powerful, but what if God isn’t infallible? What if God makes mistakes? Or, what if God is thinking on such a macro scale that human suffering is insignificant to God? That’s kind of the scariest one to me on an existential level, and that’s where Wasted Space goes (which if part of why I like about Wasted Space so much). At one moment, Billy and Dust are watching people engaged in celebration and prayer of a religious ritual. Billy tell Dust about how all of people’s hopes and prayers and dreams and guilt and shame - Billy shared all of this with the Creator and the Creator “did not give a fuuuuuuck...the folks in charge don’t care. They’re like us: they have an agenda and they don’t really care about much else.” I enjoy this as a shot at people who want to condemn others for what they perceive to be sins. God doesn’t care. As long as you’re in line with God’s agenda, God couldn’t care less what you do, or who you love.

Not to spend all of my time dwelling on Biblical themes, but there’s a ton of fertile ideas that the Wasted Space team are playing with (and I’ve got a Religion minor from college, I’ve gotta use it somewhere!). We’re around the time of the Jewish high holidays, and on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement, quite apropos for this comic) we read two different stories, both of which have a lot of resonance to Wasted Space: the binding of Isaac, and the story of Jonah.

In the story of the binding of Isaac, God told Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, whom he’d waited and prayed so long to have with Sarah. And Abraham was fully prepared to do that, as he led Isaac up to an altar and tied him up, prepared to make his own son an offering to his faith. God intervenes at the last moment, providing a Ram for sacrifice and saying that Abraham has proven his faith. Great for Abraham, but what about the rest of his family? What’s Isaac to think of his father, who was willing to sacrifice him to prove something to an invisible deity? And poor Sarah? I can only imagine family dinners were pretty awkward after that. What’s the takeaway? Much like in Wasted Space - if God is real, then God is kind of a bastard.

The story of Jonah is also relevant here not because Billy gets stuck in the belly of a whale (though a lot of weird stuff happens to him) but more because he’s the rare example of a character who refused, for a time, to do what God wanted of him. Jonah was tasked with bringing a message of God’s wrath to the people of Nineveh if they didn’t change their ways - he fled and eventually fulfilled his task and was angry with God because knew the people would be spared; I think really he was mad because he knew it would turn out fine which just makes him a pawn on God’s chessboard. He wanted to see the people punished for their wickedness, and honestly may have resented their faith in him and the message from God that he carried. 


It’s hard to be a prophet. If you do what God asks and the result is positive, the best you are is a pawn or a messenger. At worst, such as in the case of Billy, you’re a catalyst for disaster. Billy is a man filled with profound regret. He’s got incredible hostility towards the faith of people because he’s seen what real faith in the words of a God will cause people to do. So why do it? Well, the Bible doesn’t really spend all that time exploring the inner lives of its protagonists, but in the case of Billy, it’s some pretty basic human emotions. Ego. Pride. The chance to feel special. He loved the adulation and attention that being a prophet and having abilities would bring him. And that was more his focus than the real consequences of the message he was spreading. The creators here are making a great point, about the fact that even those people who may have an actual direct connection to God, they’re no more righteous, and no less selfish or ego-driven, than the rest of us. Just because you’re touched by holiness, doesn’t mean you stop being human. And being in that position of holiness and power might just mess with your moral compassion on a fundamental level.

But I don’t want to leave you thinking that Wasted Space is in any way a tough read, even as full as it is with great ideas and moral, and theological questions. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a tremendously fun read, full of humor and drama and action and yes, big ideas. It’s kind of like if you could eat a cheeseburger and onion rings, but it was also somehow actually really good for you. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.