Publisher: Image Comics (Skybound Imprint)
Writer: John Layman
Artwork: Afu Chan
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Release Date: 10th July 2019
Layman’s “Chew” has the distinction of being one of the only comics I’ve read the entire run of in recent years (along with Locke and Key, thanks for asking). It’s fair to say I like his inventive, twisted, offbeat comedy and downright messed-up – but somehow plausible – ideas. And I love me some otherworldly Lovecraftian horror (hence L&K). Throw in a dash of British-infused 2000AD sci-fi whimsy and drag it backwards through Event Horizon, and you start to get the beginnings of how brilliant, bonkers and downright bloody Outer Darkness is.
As a setting, Layman explores a hellish interpretation of an uncaring, hungry universe that Lovecraft first opened up. Aboard the CHARON, flying through the black fuelled by a vast and hungry daemon, a fractious crew plot against one another – but mostly the captain – as they rescue valuable souls, (un)holy cargo or whatever the quixotic Captain Rigg demands.
Most recently, the ship encountered a floating, spectral-Nazi-infested haunted house in the void, from which they rescued a nun that had been trapped within. So, this issue in part acts as good jumping on (or back in, shame on you) point, even though it’s the second of the current arc, as she is brought up to speed of a couple of centuries missed.
What could’ve been some clunky exposition in the hands of a lesser writer is done brilliantly, however, as we get it from the perspective of the most mysterious of the crew, the mutineer Ensign Hydzek whom the captain rescued from being sacrificed to fuel the ship’s Daemon engine. This gives us a fresh spin on the process of Soul Recovery (if you’re valuable enough, you don’t stay dead, grown back to life in the Mortuary) and, with her backstory, the machinations of the wider Fleet hierarchy also. There’s some more subtle world-building also, along with a couple of in-jokes for those of us who’ve read since the start.
The art is a joy. Chan does channel some of Gilfoy’s chunky, blocky character design, but it’s smoother, reminiscent of ‘90s era 2000AD and Megazine art. This complements the feel of the piece as a whole: it could easily be from the pages of the galaxy’s greatest, with added swears. Also, when the violence does (inevitably) erupt, it’s visceral but never less than precise: you experience the horror in ruthless gore-a-rama. However, it’s there in the subtle stuff too: I have a theory that can always judge an artist by the way they draw rain and here Chan completely convinces us that it’s raining, hard, inside the bridge.
Simply put: this is the best regular sci-fi comic out there right now, from Image or anyone else (and there’s some stiff competition). It’s a strong contender for the best regular comic full stop.
Why the actual Hell aren’t you reading it yet?