Orbiter Comic Review

Warren Ellis doesn’t want us to be lonely. This book is about one way to go about not being lonely.

Short Plot Summary

A space shuttle disappears from orbit, resulting in the halting of manned space flight. 10 years later it returns, and the book is finding out where it has been. It’s full of neat post modern technological ideas and wonky physics and it uses the word spacetime appropriately. If you are space science nerd, this is a quick hit of the hard stuff.

The heart of the book is rocket scientist Terry Marx. (He even wears a t-shirt in one scene that reads, “Actually, I AM a rocket scientist.”) His presence here burns bright as the engines he loves so much. He enters with a literal explosion and goes out on a kiss (or at least a first date). It is his enthusiasm and excitement and humor that carries the reader through the book.

The other characters, not so much. There’s Colonel Bukovic, the hardened army guy breathing down everyone’s necks about alien invasion and breaking legs when he doesn’t like the way you look at him. He does actually get one nice line, a little bit of layering, but mostly he’s just what you’d expect from someone named Colonel Bukovic.

Michelle Robeson, a former astronaut specializing in life sciences, is another weak character. She even gets a whole conversation with her departing lover and all it communicates about her is “i <3 space.” Which we kind of already know, because duh, she’s an astronaut. And why is her opening scene so dark, as in poorly lit? It’s a workplace scene, but it looks like something out of a noir film. Oh, she’s tortured, ok, got it. Thanks. She also only gets one cool science insight while even the therapist gets a whole bunch.

And then the therapist, Anna Bracken. She actually fares a little better under Ellis’s hand. She used to evaluate and counsel astronauts for NASA. She speaks of her love for the vicarious thrill of experiencing space through her therapeutic sessions. Which is slightly more interesting than just being a space dork. She speaks of wonder. That’s what was taken away from her when the space program halted.

Which is the entire character motivation for all the main protagonists; what they’re missing is the space program, that’s what they want. This book would be drastically improved by someone with slightly more complicated feelings about the return of the Venture.

Finally, there’s John Cost, sole survivor of the original crew. When they find him, he has gone mad. However this madness dissolves quite quickly and is a flimsy plot device. It’s really just an excuse to get some fingers digging into flesh and crazy distorted faces into the imagery, which, to me, is not necessary or welcome. But Ellis loves his grotesqueries. Anyway, I can’t give up too much of his character without giving up the plot, but he’s a true captain and explorer, I’ll tell you that.

A Word on the Introduction

The introduction is terrible, stupid, pointless, will probably turn off a lot of casual browsers. Why has Kennedy Space Center become a slum town? Why are there fat people walking around in leotards? Who is this kid? And then the whole thing goes up when Venture returns. Just so the Colonel can say something about hosing children off the shuttle and we can see some shots of flesh melted bodies. Typical Ellis, the inventor of the gun that makes people shit themselves. The rest of the book is largely free from this kind of thing, barring the parts already mentioned.

In the end, this is book about gaining something you’ve longed for, its about hope. It’s about believe there really is something out there better than this. And sure, it’s political, in the sense that NASA is a political football, but who’s to say private industry can’t lead the way on manned space flight? But Ellis believes that the stars are worth visiting, that we will find something greater than ourselves out there, and then, perhaps, we will not be so lonely.

P.S.  Many think that Ellis wrote this as a response to the Columbia disaster, but a careful reading of the introduction to the trade paperback shows that he finished the script a month before the accident. It was rushed to print to respond to it, but it was not the book’s impetus.

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