Space westerns should be its own genre.
Some might think melding the distinct two genres — one heavy on space-flight, technology and the future with the other set in the past somewhere in the dirt — would be akin to mixing oil and water, but if you take the essential ingredients from either, you come to realize they have more in common than not.
In context, the explorers moving ever West were pioneers braving new territory with their covered wagons, cataloguing indigenous creatures on the way, and fighting to survive with whatever means and weapons they had. Science-fiction in its most distilled form disguises human struggles through its use of exotic and off-planet locales, foreign lifeforms, and futuristic technology. Give the wagon a fusion reactor and drop it onto another planet and you’re well on your way to crafting a space western. All you need now is an anti-hero in need of redemption and a supporting cast willing to put their lives on the line.
To make it a true sci-fi story, the story needs to be intimately human. Even Stranger in a Strange Land, a novel whose main character is an alien, was about learning how and what it means to be one of us.
And with that, I think readers looking for their space western fix will find it in Drifter #1, an Image title with tons of potential. It’s the sort of comic that comes across as very personal despite its scope and breath.
Abram Pollux, a command pilot and our anti-hero, crashlands and finds safety on a beach. A shoot-first sort of guy, Pollux kills a native lifeform and prepares to defend himself against another before the second lifeform picks up the dying one and disappears off into the distance. Immediately after receiving mercy, Pollux takes a gut-shot — and then some — from a mysterious assassin.
From there, Pollux wakes up in a med-bay in Ghost Town under the watch of Lee Carter, a medic and badge-branding marshal. Pollux is free to go, and he’s met outside by a religious figure who believes God has been telling him about Pollux’s arrival. The Father escorts Pollux to a bar where Abram gets his weapon back attacks and smashes a glass in an assailant’s face. In the midst of the scuffle, the assassin that shot Pollux leaves the bar, and Abram leaves town in pursuit.
With a noirish sort of narrative straight out of Pollux’s brain, writer Ivan Brandon crosses a bit into the mystery genre. If that’s a turn-off, know that Brandon’s Pollux is introspective and self-aware without the pretense. You don’t get the sense that Pollux is too clever for his own good — instead, we get a character who’s self-deprecating and not above acknowledging his misdeeds and faults, calling himself a coward after he pulls the trigger on the first native he sees.
And that simple line, “It doesn’t stop to see what a coward looks like,” will likely make or break the entire story for you. The line is critical in understanding Pollux — a man lost to his fate who has a keen understanding of right and wrong. Pollux’s issue is with seeing the consequences play out — he’s his own worst enemy, a victim of his own hand. The complex and contradictory nature of his character is shown throughout. After getting shot, Pollux acknowledges he deserves the punishment. But when he sees the assassin leaving the bar, he ignores the lesson of mercy and pursues revenge — or is it suicide?
It’s a worthy question that speaks as much to the storytelling — when Pollux goes after his would-be killer, is he looking to take one more life, or is he presenting himself as a sacrifice? Much of Drifter #1 major plot points present themselves in the form of choices to be funneled into consequences. In the bar, the Father asks which Pollux needs first — the gun or the drink. Both are potentially dangerous weapons, and when he comes to the Father’s defense, both come into play loaded for bear. Even then, Lee steps in to give Pollux another choice — to continue down the path or walk away. Pollux believes the final choice he makes is the worst one, but we’ll have to read on to see what happens.
The artwork by Nic Klein is, in one word, beautiful. If you’re a fan of Mike Mayhew, you’ll love Klein’s dense artwork with its fluid textures and fantasy-style renderings. Each panel is saturated with atmosphere via lighting and environmental detail, and when the page opens up to vast vistas, the big-picture views are breathtaking. I’m worried that there will be huge delays with a book that looks this good, but if the subsequent issues continue on this high-reaching trajectory, I wouldn’t mind getting an issue once every other month.
When Lee interrupts Pollux’s quest, she asks, “You get something so wrong you’d pay it back with your own breath?” It’s a question that resonates, because we’ve all gone and done something as if spurred by the heat of the moment or some urgent emotion. How many of us would have changed our minds if someone had just said something. The road to perdition begins with a step, and there’s something compelling about seeing a character move to the edge of a cliff.
We find relief when he turns back. We find a sort of kinship when he falls.
Drifter #1 (2014)
Words: Ivan Brandon
Art: Nic Klein
Letters: Clem Robins
Next Issue: Drifter #2 Review