Hello all and welcome back to another in my ongoing installments: Uncle Mac reviews a comic he has no business reviewing.
Let me explain. When it comes to the world of indie books, I like to dip my toes into as many genres as possible. Horror, fantasy, romance, action, sci-fi, detective, all the genres.
The only exception to that list for me is licensed comics. For some reason, I just never can get on board with comic book adaptations of live-action properties. I think it’s because I tend to associate characters with the actors performing them, so when the element of the actor is removed, it often feels like what you’re getting is someone else’s impression of how they think or want the actor to behave instead of how that character would actually behave. To me, this gives a lot of adaptations an artificial feeling that I struggle to overcome. It’s one of the reasons why even though I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, I’ve never really enjoyed any of the comic continuations of the series (and I tried. I read all of Joss Weldon’s Buffy sequel and a lot of Fireflies. Loved the cover art, did not enjoy the actual books at all).
The other issue I have with this week’s comic genre is that it is a comic book sequel to an already established property, an already established property I have zero familiarity with. In some ways that might make this a better read for me, since I have no preconceived notions going in about what this story is supposed to look and feel like. On the other hand, the fan love of the series that might make this a smash hit with them is definitely lost on me.
So why review a comic that is seemingly so outside my wheelhouse? Well, two reasons. One, if comics are going to succeed with new readers, it kind of behooves publishers to make an effort to reach out to people who are not already reading their books and bring them in. If a title like this can bring me in, then it has a pretty good chance of success with other readers like me. The second reason is that I like to take chances with my comic reading. If we just read the same books about the same characters over and over again then our love of the medium could very well stagnate. I like to mix it up and challenge myself to review something different as much as possible, and even when I’m not totally enamoured with a new book, I do always try to find something positive to say about it.
As so, with no further ado, let’s look at this week’s comic: Voyage to the Stars from IDW. Let’s talk about what works, what doesn’t, and if you should give it a chance like I did.
Here’s the blur:
The hit sci-fi comedy podcast starring Colton Dunn (Superstore), Felicia Day (Supernatural), Janet Varney (Legend of Korra), Kirsten Vangsness (Criminal Minds), and Steve Berg (Drunk History) crashes into comics! Earth is gone. Only one intrepid crew of misfits managed to escape, now determined and ambiguously destined to stop a growing, ancient evil from consuming the universe. Though stopping it may be tricky, as our heroes can’t help but destroy just about every planet and species they come across. Kinda debatable who’s the bigger threat.
Voyage to the Stars is a bonafide podcast phenomenon! With 2.5 million downloads in its debut year and over 100,000 viewers on Twitch, the wild sci-fi podcast that’s consistently ranked in the Top 100 for comedy is now on its way to conquer the comics world, helmed by five-time Harvey Award-nominee James Asmus!
Now, like I said, I am not familiar with this podcast. It seems to be a big hit, with a lot of fans really enjoying it, and that’s great, but I’ve never heard it, or heard of it, so I’m going into this book super cold, and that’s a problem in a couple ways. Let’s break it down and show you why
Alright, right off the bat the art in Voyage to the Stars is great. The designs are unique and interesting, the action is clear and understandable, and the body language is expressive and interesting. Artist Connie Daidone has done some comic work before, but for a lot of people, myself included, she’s a relatively new name. However, while she may be a newer artist, she has an understanding of the page and panel layout that goes beyond a lot of industry mainstays I could name (but won’t because I try to keep it positive).
In a lot of ways, the art in Voyage to the Stars (as well as the overall tone,) reminded me a great deal of another sci-fi comedy book, Money Shot, that features art from Rebekah Isaacs. Both books are visually pleasing reads, and if you haven’t picked up Money Shot yet let me highly recommend that book right now (although it is for mature readers, so don’t give it to the kids).
As for the plot of the book, Voyage to the Stars isn’t poorly written, in that each character has a unique personality, and we very quickly understand the group dynamics in this cast. It’s not a super complicated story, so it’s ok to follow for new readers, and the internal logic of the book seems somewhat consistent.
All of which sounds like I am damning with faint praise. Yeah, it’s time to talk about what doesn’t work.
What doesn’t work:
So, do you know what in medias res means? It refers to stories that start in the middle of the plot or action. There are a number of examples of stories that start like this to great effect. Star Wars: A New Hope is a perfect example. We jump right into the story with minimum background, and throughout the course of the story, we learn enough about what’s going on that we can follow the plot and understand the interactions between characters in a way that allows us to appreciate the drama of the story.
Little side note story here: the first Star Wars movie I actually saw was Return of the Jedi, and I hated it. The reason I hated it was because I had no idea what was going on, what the story was supposed to be about, what the stakes were, or why I should even care. A New Hope understood that while it was starting in the middle of the story, it also had to take its time to bring the viewers on board. By the time we get to Jedi, you pretty much had to be up to speed or the whole thing was going to go way over your head, (or at least it went way over mine).
Voyage to the Stars drops us right in the middle of the story as well, and sadly for me, it feels more like my first experience with Jedi than it does A New Hope. We get a single page telling us that the Earth was destroyed, Our protagonists were trying to save it but failed (or possibly caused it) and now they are trying to fight back against whatever it was that destroyed the Earth (an evil known only as “Nothing”). And then boom! we’re dropped into a giant robot running from a giant animal because the captain strapped artificial testicles to the robot…for some reason.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this scene is doing it’s best to try to establish for the reader who the characters are and how they interact with each other, and there are some genuinely funny moments in this scene, and Voyage to the Stars overall, but for a new reader this just feels a bit too forced. Plus, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s not clear why we should care. Why is this group special? Why do they matter to the story? Are these our heroes? Who are they working for? What’s even happening?
To quote the great Val Kilmer, it just raises too many questions.
What I would have preferred is if a bit more time was spent on establishing the nature of the threat, including some discussion of why this crew has taken it upon themselves to be the ones to deal with it. There is a decided lack of backstory here that would give relevance to what I’m reading, and make it clear to me why I should be invested in what this group is doing. Even if they are total failures who have no business doing this, and are acting on terrible motives, there is still humour and interesting developments that can come with this (I mean, have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy?).
And I know right away people will be shouting “you need to listen to the podcast!” and I get that, but also, no. You see, if a comic is going to stand on its own as a success, it needs to stand on its own without requiring me to go and listen to hours of audio media from another source. I don’t think people need everything spelled out for them, but we need a bit more than 5-6 panels on a single page to really get it. Or at least I do. I totally understand that your mileage with it will vary.
And really, for me, that’s the issue with this comic. It just doesn’t feel welcoming to new fans. There isn’t really an effort made to bring us up to date with what’s going on and what we need to know to actually care about these characters. I have no doubt that that is something that will happen as the series develops, but if they want casual readers to pick this up and give the series a chance this first issue is going to be hard to sell.
So, should you read it?
I started off this review totally owning the fact that I have no investment in these characters or this world. That being said, if I was a fan I would definitely check this out and might even enjoy it a great deal. I will say that I would recommend the series as a trade when it is done because I think more time in a longer format would benefit new readers a great deal. I think if issue two hits hard with background for new readers that would be a tremendous help.
And really, this is not a bad book. I don’t review bad books. The art is solid, the character interactions are believable, and I even laughed at a few of the jokes. My main issue with Voyage to the Stars, as I said, is that I just don’t feel it is super welcoming to outsiders. If you’re already a fan of this world you’ll probably love it. It wasn’t for me but might very well be for you!
Until next time, stay safe.