blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Black Star (2021)

Black star 10

The cynic in me can’t help thinking Black Star started as a movie screenplay. Writer Eric Anthony Glover has a bunch of narrative devices to exposition dump—there aren’t just flashbacks, there are talking omnipotent computers who playback the flashbacks. Nintendo Power Gloves with screens built-in. The computer, “Guardian” not “Mother,” tells the characters where to walk and how fast, so there’s never any concern about getting lost exactly, and they can always make the timed events. Plus, there’s always available banter when it’s just someone almost drowning in their spacesuit or whatever. Though Glover’s not good at the conversation scenes, and at least the computer is terser.

But. There’s Arielle Jovellanos’s art, and it’s excellent. Lots of Black Star is just action sequences—the graphic novel is 176 pages, but maybe thirty-six actual pages of content—and Jovellanos paces them out beautifully. Her focuses make the action tactile, which really helps with a future alien world story. The physical challenges the characters undergo, the stresses, the dangers; Jovellanos’s art makes the situations immediately sympathetic. Even though we learn pretty quick, the characters are bastards.

There’s a sort of twist in Black Star to make it morally ambiguous, though not really. With all the expository devices Glover leverages, the comic feels like it’s targeting YA. Until the characters start swearing, but then it just feels like they’re throwing in the f-bombs to get a tougher than PG-13 rating. And the moral ambiguity stuff ends up being really thin since there’s a countdown—the escape shuttle has to takeoff in x amount of time, or it can’t get away, and the planet’s going to have acid rain. It seems like Glover’s building towards some interesting look at the situation for a while, but it’s just filler, padding the pages.

The story—with an attempt to avoid spoilers, so forgive the cuteness—is about the last two survivors of the scientific spacecraft Nostromo—or is it Black Star—crashed on a hostile planet where they’re going to cultivate a flower. The flower is going to cure cancer. Onboard the ship is one red shirt, one medic, one engineer, and then the scientist who will cure cancer. One of them is a bully, two of them are in love. They’re all women, which isn’t actually necessary in any way whatsoever, ditto everyone being a different race. Black Star’s diverse for literal optics. Because Glover doesn’t have any real backstory other than one person’s a selfish jerk and another person’s a jerk, and another person’s just the sweetest thing in the galaxy.

They crash, two people survive, but the escape shuttle only holds one because it’s a trope, and Glover doesn’t think above, about, or around existing tropes. The planet’s full of natural disasters because Dr. David Marcus used protomatter to—wait, wrong natural disaster-filled planet; it’s just a perilous planet, and whoever sent the spaceship mission to find the cure to cancer cheaped out because otherwise there wouldn’t be an inciting incident.

The two survivors race through disasters to the shuttle, both trying to kill one another along the way. Turns out they’re both anti-heroes but also, who cares at all about these characters; they’re assholes. But if they cure cancer, it’s okay.

About halfway through, it’s obvious where Glover’s taking it—even if he needs three endings to get there—and so then all there is to engage in Jovellanos’s art, and it does. The second ending, however, is a dead weight visually. After stretching the pages with great action beats, Jovellanos can’t make the finale work. Before those pages, there are like two panels where she isn’t spot-on. The finish is just a mess, though. It’s a real bummer.

But, still, mostly great art. Probably not good enough to make Black Star worth hunting down—the middling writing wears it down too much—but there are worse comics in the derivative sci-fi seemingly repurposed from other media genre.

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