Created and written by John Byrne
Colours by Leonard O’Grady
Letters by Neil Uyetake
Edited by Chris Ryall
Published by IDW
I’ve never really followed John Byrne’s superhero work. It’s not that I’m not a fan, he’s clearly immensely talented, but rather that I’ve never been dragged in by any of it. Byrne’s science fiction however, is a very different story. The High Ways, the four part mini he just finished for IDW is huge fun, equal parts Red Dwarf and John Carpenter, and Doomsday .1, a do over of one of his earliest projects is equally entertaining if much, much grimmer.
The world’s ending. Now. Today. And the astronauts aboard the International Space Station are both blessed and cursed to see it coming. A colossal solar flare, four times larger than the planet itself, is hours away. There’s nothing to be done but warn home and try and work out if they want to survive at all. The crew all deal with it in different ways; mission commander Yuri is desperately concerned about the welfare of his team, Hikari Akiyama, the scientist who makes the discovery is ruthlessly determined to survive and Boyd, the mission pilot, turns down a last chance to reconcile with his father. The end’s coming, and not everyone is interested in making their peace.
To show the scope of the disaster, Byrne cuts between the station crew making their plans and events on Earth. Once the story goes public, the panic is absolute and we get interesting glimpses of where the series will go from here. One of the best sequences is a two page spread dealing with the Vatican and the desolate, angry emissary they send to survive. Another sees a high security prison in the US taken over by its worst inmates whilst a third sees a nuclear submarine crew realize they may be uniquely positioned to survive. None of these people are safe, none of them have a plan but they all might, just, have a shot at surviving. The crux of the series, I suspect, may be whether or not they want to.
But the focus remains on the station crew and this is where the book really shines. The minor alliances and petty feuds that months in close proximity bring out look set to be a cornerstone of the book, with mission engineer and massive tact vacuum Benning equal parts antagonist and ally and the question of who’s leading the group already making for some interesting conflict. Byrne cleverly keeps the focus on the characters, using them to show us the scale of the disaster. The final few pages, when they land, really work this angle and the final two panels are especially great. The world has ended. Welcome to tomorrow.
Byrne’s characterful, expressive art style is perfect for this sort of story and there’s really some really smart storytelling on display here. The first few pages use panel orientation to remind you there is no up in space for example. Similarly Neil Uyetake’s lettering is smart and functional and Leonard O’Grady’s colours balance the tranquil blue of the Earth with the nightmarish fires of the solar flare, grounding the whole piece as solidly as the ISS crew themselves. This is a grim, fun piece of science fiction that hits the ground running and only accelerates. The world may have ended, but the work, and the story, are just beginning.