REVIEW: Spaceman #9

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The final issue of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s neo-noir dystopian tale of kidnapping, reality TV and LOLspeak has hit the stands. Major Spoilers reviews the wrap-up.

SPACEMAN #9
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso
Letters: Clem Robins
Colors: Dave Johnson & Patricia Mulvihill
Editor: Mark Doyle & Will Dennis
Publisher: Vertigo Comics
Price: $2.99

Previously, in Spaceman: Orson is the titular spaceman, the genetically-engineered product of a failed space program meant to terraform Mars. Scavenging the wreck of a flooded world with the rest of the underclass, Orson accidentally interrupts the kidnapping of a world-famous reality TV star. Taking her under his oh-so-long arm, the spaceman that never got to space navigates his way through a world filled with betrayal, avarice, and LOLspeak.

EAT THE CHEESBURGER, ASTRO BOY

Spaceman is a book with a simple title, and that’s where the simplicity ends. Everything else is a richly crafted melange that rewards, nay, requires multiple readings to fully digest. Azzarello’s setting is a dystopian world where the world has become a gated community. The poor scrape a living from the ruins of the flooded old world in the Rise while the rich live in walled-off comfort in the Dries. Most of Spaceman is set in the Rise, where the residents communicate in a bastardized LOLspeak jargon, whiling away their time with drugs, crime and television. This all amounts to a society darkly reflective of our own, which is exactly what a good dystopia should be. Best of all, Azzarello introduces his setting organically, allowing his world to fill in the gaps between his dense plot and characterization. Orson is just another part of the Rise, a man unable to fulfil his destiny by events entirely out of his control.

As regards the overall plot, I won’t give away too much. This is a noir book, full of double and triple crossing, back-stabbing and betrayal. The action is balanced with deep characterization. In what is Azzarello’s most interesting (and most head-scratching) decision, the narrative is almost split in half between the main plot (involving piracy, kidnapping and reality TV) and a plot taking place on Mars (which develops into a little criminal enterprise of its own). Azzarello never makes clear the precise nature of the latter reality – we only see it when Orson experiences a lapse in consciousness, through sleep or drug-taking or blows to the head. The “was it all a dream?” aspect of a good chunk of the book is the only thing that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and even then, I enjoyed the journey.

CHIAROSCURO

Eduardo Risso does an expectedly great job on the art side, in much the same vein as his heralded 100 Bullets collaboration with Azzarello. Risso executes noir comics as fine as anyone, with the requisite mastery of shadow and light so necessary to build the atmosphere. The colors are dark but clean, never inhibiting clarity or action. Risso’s design for the spacemen is nothing short of brilliant. With unmistakable simian elements, they resemble nothing so much as popular depictions of our hominid forebears. But their brutish looks belie the richness of their characterization.

A TRIP WORTH TAKING

I will freely admit that Spaceman does not entirely make sense to me. I still cannot divine the precise relationship between Orson’s Martian goldsmuggling fantasy and the bulk of the action. I’m still parsing some of the more obscure dialogue. But that doesn’t matter to me. Spaceman is a book that greatly rewards re-reading, with a density of thought and metaphor absent from many other comic books. Spaceman earns a lofty four and a half out of five stars. Check it out.

Rating: ★★★★½