By Ben Kooyman
On the distant planet Siorlasar, two space gods have to deal with their long distance relationship. Even in the middle of an intergalactic war, can their love survive across the universe?
When the last intergalactic adventure / cosmic romance you consumed was the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, you’d be forgiven for going into another with some trepidation. However, Astral, scripted by Alex Chung and illustrated by Louie Joyce, is refreshingly light on dog people, bee people, and whatever Eddie Redmayne was supposed to be. Where that film yanks Mila Kunis’ Jupiter from a dreary human life of toilet cleaning servitude and plunges her into extraordinary circumstances, Astral opens with the extraordinary – in media res in the thick of combat with alien critters, with green blood a-spraying and decapitated Cyclopean heads a-flying – before grounding events in the very relatable, very real dilemma of long-distance relationships.
Astral is, in scale and thematic scope, a perfect match for the one-shot format. The first casualty of the miniseries in local comics is often the reader: I understand the enthusiasm of creators for building a story across a larger canvas, but too often I read promising issue ones and twos and then, due to the erratic circumstances of local production and distribution, never get to read later issues. The one-shot is a nice way around that. Beyond this pragmatic virtue, the format allows creators to flex a different set of storytelling muscles: to craft a story with a beginning, middle and end as opposed to the predominantly second act default of the medium. With Astral, Chung crafts a whole, cohesive, and efficiently told tale shorn of the padding and extraneous detail often used to artificially extend the life of a series. The story could easily have been stretched out, with extra battles and further subplots and complications, but Chung wisely chooses to tell a complete story.
As noted above, the grounding in the real and relatable is another of the comic’s virtues. Chung describes the comic as “New Gods meets Cameron Crowe”, and despite its intergalactic setting the text captures something of the flavour of long-distance relationships and the curveballs and interpersonal dramas that come with them. I also appreciate the switching of traditional gender roles in the protagonists: Perla is the badass warrior woman, cut from the same comic book cloth as Frank Miller’s Martha Washington and Garth Ennis’s Bloody Mary, sent away to battle at far-flung outposts, while Eron, though a formidable warrior too, is the son of the patriarch forced to remain behind.
In previous pieces I’ve praised the artwork of Louie Joyce (see our Footsteps review and Past the Last Mountain preview), and he does excellent work here too. There’s a great, wispy, electric quality to his work, and his use of colour here is especially noteworthy. All the primaries, secondaries and tertiaries are present and accounted for, and are contrasted in striking ways within individual frames, but are also flattened and drained of their surface pop. This is befitting to the dog-eared, battle-hardened society of the story, and also marries well with the grounded, human dimension of Chung’s script.
Astral is out now and available via ComiXology.