(Vertigo/DC Comics, $24.95, 100 pages, hardcover; published in June 2003.)
Writer Warren Ellis's first memory dates from when he was seventeen months old, in July1969: his mother holding him up in front of the TV. He was watching Neil Armstrong step on the moon. So began a lifelong fascination with the exploration of space.
Orbiter, his collaboration with illustrator Colleen Doran, is not the writer's only fictionalized foray into space travel. Another notable example is the as-yet-incomplete Ministry of Space (illustrated by Chris Weston), an alternate-history comics series in which the United Kingdom becomes the world leader in space exploration.
Orbiter recounts a more intimate story. Ten years ago, the space shuttle Venture mysteriously disappeared while on a mission. Manned spaceflight became politically unfeasible, and the space program collapsed. Inexplicably, the shuttle returns, seemingly undamaged, with only one crew member remaining.
A team is assembled to examine the ship and the returned astronaut. What their investigation uncovers is stranger than anything they could have ever imagined and might be the answer to their frustrated dreams of space exploration.
Orbiter is fuelled by a fervent desire to see humanity reach the stars. It is suffused with the sense of wonder that is science fiction's lifeblood. This work's sincerity, its passionate engagement, and the bold inventiveness of its ideas are all admirable traits. And yet, Orbiter is disappointing.
There's a lack of conflict; the story too effortlessly moves forward. More obstacles were needed for the conclusion to have the impact that it yearns to achieve.
Illustrator Doran depicts the characters' emotions in much too exaggerated a fashion, jarring with the low-key tone of the story. In general, the artwork is stiff and the visual storytelling mundane and uninvolving.
In comics, it's important for words (story) and pictures (storytelling) to work symbiotically. Sadly, it's not the case here.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 2 August 2003, 5 October 2003