(2004) Warren Ellis & Colleen Doran with Dave Stewart, Titan Books, £11.99, trdpbk, 100pp, ISBN 1-840-23724-4
In a resource depleted early twenty-first century, ten years after the loss of the shuttle Venture has brought manned spaceflight to a halt, the craft reappears and crash lands on the shanty town that once used to be the Kennedy Space Center. Excepting only the near-catatonic pilot, the crew are missing. The shuttle itself has new instrumentation, new engines, and appears to be covered in something very like skin. And in the landing gear Martian sand is found... A team of three specialists are recalled from retirement; Terry Marx, engineer, Anna Bracken, psychologist, and Michelle Robeson, biologist. Together they must unravel the mystery of where the shuttle has been for ten years, what has happened to it, and what is the fate of the missing crew members. Can the pilot's twisted mind be restored, and will he know the answers to these questions even if it can? And what will an examination of the ship reveal?
This is a poignant SF mystery and psychological thriller that tries to explore why we choose to go into space in the first place, and what might be waiting for us 'out there'. Written just before the loss of the shuttle Columbia on mission STS107 (the book is dedicated to the crew who were lost), and in light of the long hiatus of activity (two and a half years) after the Challenger disaster, Ellis questions our reactions (or at least those of politicians) to such tragedies and, clearly, fears like many of we space-o-philes that these catastrophes, coupled with environmental problems, not least resource depletion, might produce a literal end to manned space exploration. And of course there are many (I've met 'em) who do question the amount of money we spend on space when there are clearly pressing terrestrial priorities deserving of attention. My usual answer is first to point out that it need not be an either/or situation, indeed that it should ideally be both, and secondly to point out that while it is true that the USA spends roughly $15.8 billion per year on space, it spends $470 billion per year on defense. Three guesses where I'd make budget cuts.
Colleen Doran's artwork is lovely whether depicting 21st century squalor (where the detailed style recalls the work of Geof (The Matrix) Darrow), characters and their interactions (where I'm reminded of Ken (The Sacred & the Profane) Steacy), or when she is drawing mechanical objects in flight and techie splash-pages (where there's a hint of Möbius (Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius and Bryan (The Adventures of Luthor Arkwright) Talbot). Not to mention flashes of Ron Cobb and HR Giger. None of which comparisons are meant to imply that she has no style of her own (Sandman readers will know that's simply not true), but rather is meant to illustrate the depth and breadth of the artwork - all of which is beautifully coloured by Dave Stewart.
This might be seen as something of a departure for Warren Ellis, whose readers are probably more familiar with the twisted Transmetropolitan or the modern super-heroics of his Wildstorm titles such as The Authority and Planetary. However, what comes across is his own passion and excitement for space exploration, and this seems, in many ways, to be a very personal work. Which is probably what makes this so very good. If you love comics, if you love SF, and if you love even the idea of spaceflight, then you really should get this wonderful book.
Other of Warren Ellis' work reviewed on this site include: Stormwatch: Final Orbit, Transmetropolitan: Spider's Thrash, Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard.
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