The Final Frontier


A friend of mine recommended this one to me a while back. He loves reading about space flight — the technology, the experiences of astronauts, the mystery and romance of putting people in a metal box and lighting explosives under them until they’re pushed up out of Earth’s atmosphere. He said he read this, and it made him want to cry with happiness. Sounded like a good reason to read it.

This is a graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Colleen Doran. It was published by Vertigo in 2003. The story is set a few years in our future — the Space Shuttle Venture mysteriously vanished a decade ago, and the resulting scandal caused the space program to be completely shut down. NASA is no more. Kennedy Space Center is one vast squatters camp.

And then, the Venture returns. No one knows where it’s been or why it took so long to come back. Only one member of the Venture’s crew is aboard, and he’s insane. There’s dust from Mars in the shuttle’s landing gear.

And the entire ship is covered in a layer of… skin.

So the government calls in some experts to investigate the mystery. There’s Michelle Robeson, a former astronaut assigned to study the shuttle itself and try to figure out where the Venture has been. There’s Terry Marx, a hotshot young physicist who has to figure out what sort of changes were made to the shuttle while it was gone. And there’s Anna Bracken, a psychiatrist who needs to analyze the Venture’s sole remaining crewman to try to make him less violently insane.

And that’s the bulk of the story. It’s a locked-room mystery, except the locked room is a 184-foot-long dual-stage space vehicle, the clues involve things I can just barely understand, like Alcubierre fields, microgravity damage, exotic matter, and bias drives, and the culprits may already be a few dozen light-years outside of Earth’s jurisdiction.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story didn’t affect me as strongly as it did my friend — but I still liked it a lot. I think my enjoyment was somewhat hampered because I kept trying to understand all the theoretical science that Ellis included in the story. I have a tough time really understanding serious, hard science, especially physics. Heck, I have trouble doing long division. If you’re as science-dim as I am, just replace any of the hard physics discussions with the words “Then a miracle occurs.

And once you get past the physics, it’s an excellent story. The characters have excellent backstories and motivations that blend into the needs of the story very well. The mystery alone makes the book a page-turner — a space shuttle with skin? A space shuttle that apparently landed on Mars? What the heck? Makes you want to read the book just to find out what on earth is going on.

Colleen Doran‘s artwork is great, too. If you’re used to her art on comics like “A Distant Soil,” her work here is a bit different, but still really beautiful and vivid. She does some really jaw-dropping landscapes of distant planets and stars.

I think you should consider getting this graphic novel. If you love space travel the way Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran do, you’ll love this. If you like hard science fiction or physics, you’ll probably like this. If you love mysteries, you’ll probably like this. If you’re a fan of Ellis or Doran, you should definitely have this on your shelf. In other words, go pick it up.

Comments are closed.