I’ve often argued that in sci fi and fiction, originality is overrated . Most of what we’ve got since the late 1970s or 1980s in movies, TV or fiction, has larger been rehashed, reserved and replated in so many forms we’ve all lost count or gave up even wanting original stuff. Sometimes, in the sea of material , it’s even difficult to know when you’re being dished out something that has essentially “already be done” in some other form.
Lauded properties like Star Wars and Indiana Jones were largely based form 1940s era pulp sci fi and radio type adventures. Star Trek (so I’m told) was Wagon Train set in space. Read EE Smith’s Lensman series and tell me what you think about something like Green Lantern as original. We can go on with the list forever.
So too in comics, we’ve seen a bit of successful stuff recycle old principles and themes into new packages. Marvel Comics works this extensively. The new Star Lord was originally clearly sculpted on Han Solo. Marvel execs themselves described the new Nova, Sam Alexander as “Peter Parker meets Luke Skywalker”. Yechh…ok if they think so, the origin story was mostly a tripe jack of The Last Starfighter or any one of a dozen B list 80s Sci Fi movies.
Yet , despite that, many of the big companies do not give us much hard military sci fi these days. Even in rehashed form. Long gone (from Marvel that is) are the days of Epic books like Alien Legion or the Last American. Even longer gone are the solid sci fi Marvel books of Keith Giffen , Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning whose critically acclaimed material and loyal fans Marvel has thrown in a smelly back alley dumpster marked “Screw off”.
Yet, other companies in comics have not sent this message. In fact, at other companies, sci fi has been a welcome priority, not a hindrance. Especially, if you’re looking for stuff a bit beyond “Star Wars”.
That brings me to Dark Horse Comics new ongoing Dark Matter comic, written by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie and drawn by Gary Brown, with colors by Ryan Hill . For sure, no one has accused Dark Horse of abandoning sci fi or its fans. In fact, the company has been one of the leaders in the field with it’s history of Aliens, Predator, the Vs stuff, Star Wars and many others.
The company doesn’t drift far from those influences here; Dark Matter reads like a smattering of “already been done” motifs jammed into one comic. Right from the start, as a team of “rough mercs” (complete with cool sleeveless shirts) wake up with a case of amnesia from hyperspace sleep, I was instantly reminded of the beginning of the aliens-esque sci fi survival horror film Pandorum. (which is a vastly underrated flick)
Other themes here, like the mercenaries deciding to help a planet they were originally going to kill, harken back to a clear connection to Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai/ Magnificent Seven-esque story line that has been done several hundred times in both sci fI, western, and drama. The cult hit film Soldier and video game Mass Effect also came to mind with a few of the concepts cooking within Dark Matter’s pages. There are others, to be sure, but overall nothing here comes off as being a reinvented wheel. The firm question becomes, is that a problem?
As I read on, surprisingly, I found the answer is a firm “no”. A funny thing happens here in Dark Matter; the book, despite a lack of notable originality, still works really well. Coupled with Brown’s phenomenal pencils that just fit like a glove in this genre, I found myself enjoying every page of the story and , ultimately, wanting more. Mallozzi and Mullie do the one thing strong sci fi needs, they develop a great cast of characters who seem interesting, compelling and have “on page” chemistry within the story and with the reader. And really, I cannot underscore how brilliant I thought Brown’s pencils and the art in this book were. Ryan Hill does a brilliant job with his colors as well.
Frankly, fans of Alien Legion will see familiar sort of chemistry here. We have the strong leader who prefers to stay on the ship. We have the sly Jugger Grimrod-esque character, a mysterious character, the more or less identifiable POV character in Jace Corso, many strong similarities to that book I found more refreshing than bothersome.
What ends up happening is the book becomes a worthy read for any of the fans of the films and comics I’ve mentioned in this article. Dark Matter , in turn , sits in a welcome place in the military sci fi genre. Better, the book is an ongoing with perhaps its best stuff in front of it. How cool would it have been, if Marvel had given us something along this direction for their left over and forgotten “Nova Corps” survivors post DnA.
In the end, derivative subject matter be damned, Dark Matter is a solid, highly recommended production and looking forward to what comes next.