Publisher: Planet Jimbot
Writer: Jim Alexander
Artist: Mike Perkins
Release Date: 14th March, 2015 (London Super Comic Con)
Originally published by Caliber Press, Amongst The Stars is a somewhat ‘out-there’ sci-fi tale from True Believer Award-winning writer Jim Alexander and acclaimed Eisner Award-winning Marvel artist Mike Perkins. The story is based around the Tchailungs, an incredibly advanced alien race who find themselves reaching out to Earth with their minds, only to become sucked in by the futility and limitations of the human consciousness and trapped in a crippling mental prison as a result.
Boldly ambitious both in scope and execution, this book serves as yet another glowing testament to Alexander’s chameleonesque writing abilities. With a somewhat abstract narrative that fills in the blanks as the story develops, we bear witness to the gradual decline of the Tchailungs as they become ‘infected’ by the harsh realities of the human mind, painfully tearing them away from their previous, blissfully serene, existence.
As is becoming something of a trademark for Jim, this is ultra-efficient writing with rarely a word wasted, and every line of dialogue or narration managing to drive the story forwards in some way or other. The story is framed through a few of Earth’s inhabitants — a confused, exhausted man named Gary who can feel the link to the Tchailungs, even if he can’t quite understand what it is — and others, including a dying boy in Turin and a crippled yet brilliant professor in the Stephen Hawking vein. Everything flows together though, and while it can initially feel a little jarring, once you become accustomed to the style, the sheer scale and implications of Alexander’s story hits you like a sledgehammer to the jaw.
Interestingly, this book serves as something of a developmental step for artist Mike Perkins, and while his career has been typified by the likes of Captain American and Ruse, here we see a younger artist trying to find his feet amidst a hugely ambitious script. Unfortunately, some of the results are a little uneven, with awkward facial expressions and some bland, empty looking pages giving some chapters of the book an almost unfinished appearance. Granted, a lot of the Tchailung scenes are set in the ‘white’, an all-encompassing shared consciousness which they inhabit, but the end result remains the same. It’s not all bad however – far from it, in fact – as we are treated to flashes of the greatness to come from Perkins’ work as he frequently brings Alexander’s world to life in thrilling, visceral fashion.
The collection also features a back-up strip entitled Growing Pains, drawn by Will Pickering (Savant, GoodCopBadCop). To be honest though, with this strip not being linked to the main story in any tangible way, it does feel like something of an unnnecessary addition — at least from a narrative point of view. That said however, I’m a huge fan of Pickering’s artwork, so any excuse to see him ‘doing his thing’ is always going to be welcome. I can’t help but feel that Growing Pains would fit a lot better in an issue of Planet Jimbot anthology Amazing & Fantastic Tales though, rather than as an addendum to what is essentially a self-contained story. Still, Pickering’s art is of its usual high standard here, and he and Alexander work together as flawlessly as always, so I guess I can’t be too unhappy with the addition.
Overall, if you overlook the occasionally inconsistent artwork and the unnecessary (yet still enjoyable in its own right) back-up strip, Amongst The Stars has the beating heart of purest sci-fi, and an epic sense of scale that leaves your eyes wide and your mouth open as you flick through the pages. While some of the concepts may be a little abstract for certain readers, and the lack of conflict, action and dramatic twists may be off-putting to some, Amongst The Stars is ambitious, thought-provoking sci-fi at its finest, and should be considered a worthwhile purchase to any fans of the genre.
If you’re at London Super Comic Con on the 14th and 15th of March, you can pick up a copy of Amongst The Stars from the Planet Jimbot table in Artist’s Alley, priced just £6.99. If you’re not, you can still grab yourself a copy by contacting Planet Jimbot via email.