Rating: 4/5 – Better Living Through Science, In Space!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Amy Okamoto
If space is the final frontier, Hickman and Pitarra’s Sun Beyond The Stars is science fiction’s wild west version of it. Murderous villains, outlaws, and questionable lawmen inhabit this wild, but these aren’t any regular cowboys. They’re aliens with their own sense of morality and justice, including a night court presided over by a judge who speaks softly but carries a big stick.
After an initial run of 25 issues, The Manhattan Projects has relaunched with a new #1 and a new focus. The original series depicted an alternate history of the earth after WWII in which scientists form a secret alliance to pursue various scientific endeavors. Among the projects was the exploration and colonization of space. The series left off during the Cold War when the partnership of the surviving scientists is dissolved, with each going their own way. This ending left many opportunities for storylines to be picked up.
Rather than focus on the tribulations and implications of man and science, the book is centered on space and the existing alien society. The first issue introduces two storylines, including one which follows the fate of Russian cosmonaut Yuri from the original series. In the first half of the book, Hickman presents an intriguing new alien scientist who has an agenda against the existing scientific agency enforcers. It becomes immediately apparent that he places his goals above everything else, including the lives of millions. As little is known about the history of this new character or the governing science agency, readers may feel slightly confused. But if the original series is any indicator, the reasoning behind the characters’ actions will be familiar to us despite the foreignness of the characters. Hickman’s use of aliens allows us a certain degree of detachment from the moral scrutiny of the story.
The storyline of cosmonauts Yuri and Laika, his highly intelligent and speech-capable dog, reminds me of a twist on the Harlan Ellison “A Boy and His Dog” story. Though not dependent upon each other for survival, these two are dependent on each other emotionally. Yuri especially seems to have unresolved “feelings” for his dog. Previously separated by a space mission in the initial series, Yuri mourns for Laika and goes in search of her. In the meantime, as was shown in in the original series, Laika has undergone her own changes and is now a modified biped canine. Their unexpected reunion and the subsequent story line should be entertaining.
The second part of the book is about Yuri, who is lost in space. Keeping in with the idea of space being similar to the wild west, he is the equivalent of the city slicker who finds himself in a boom town with little knowledge of how things work. Immediately arrested, the bewildered Yuri eventually ends up under the watchful eye of a bored judge looking for a little entertainment, which is exactly what they find in the space saloon. Artist Nick Pitarra has a unique style, lending a grotesqueness to the aliens that mirrors their frequently abhorrent behavior. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Pitarra’s portrayals of aliens is his ability to develop imaginatively constructed characters completely unlike the standard human biped model. This new series should give him plenty of opportunities to flex the creative muscles.
The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond The Stars #1 is a new beginning for this “better living through science” series. With its setting in the wilds of space and containing even wilder science, the series should be a fun read for fans of science fiction and is a great follow up to the initial 25 issue run.
Reviewed by: Amy Okamoto
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