Here’s the thing about Brian Azzarello, which you already know if you’ve read 100 Bullets: he writes a great crime story. I think that’s why, no matter what he’s writing, he winds up shoehorning a crime story in there, the way Robin Williams ramfeeds schtick into every Goddamned role he ever does, or the way low-level Internet writers about comics cram uncomfortable jokes about their balls into their reviews.
And there are times when it’s a welcome addition, like the toy in the bottom of a cereal box – after all, nobody’s gonna bitch about a hard-boiled crime story stuck into in a Batman comic. Others, like when he made John Constantine a gay-trolling ex-convict in Hellblazer, it’s a less joyful little discovery, like scratching your balls and saying, “Huh… what’s that lump?”
It’s too early to tell how the crime story he’s stuck into Spaceman will come across: Cracker Jack prize? Or ball tumor?
On paper, Spaceman is a book that’s right in my wheelhouse. It starts out a story about astronauts in trouble on Mars and morphs into a tale about a dark future cyberpunk world of ruined cities, media oversaturation and interactive Internet prostitution (Because in Soviet Future, Internet jerks off to you!), kind of a weird combination of Blade Runner and Neuromancer mixed with 2001 that tries like hell to press all my geek buttons.
Our protagonist is Orson, a dude who scrapes out a living salvaging scrap metal off what seems to be the suddenly more inland coast of Boston (Thank you, Aqua-Net!) based on the appearance of what looks like the Old North Church… except Orson wears a Pittsburgh Pirates cap, which means climate apocalypse or not, in the real world he wouldn’t last through the seventh inning stretch in Southie.
Orson claims that he was grown and raised in a lab for the purposes of being sent on a mission into space, which means that I’m only inferring that he wasn’t named Ender in the interests of avoiding a lawsuit. Orson tells people that the mission never happened… except sometimes his reality dissolves into actually being on the mission on Mars. Say, when he’s sleeping, or when he’s under the influence of an eyedropper-delivered drug of which Orson is warned only to take “little tastes, or your head’ll come off” by his dealer Rico… last name presumably Gonzo, Duke or Thompson.
So this story has everything I like in my science fiction: space adventure, post-apocalyptic environments, high-tech lowlives, and a constant questioning of the nature of reality. Clarke meets Gibson meets Dick (heh.)… even if some of it feels on-the-nose derivative.
And then there’s the crime story.
Through Orson’s story we hear of the abduction of the adopted daughter of “Marc” and “April” – two mega moviestars who produce a reality show where orphans in Third World toilets compete to be adopted by these two douchebags. It’s basically a subtle dig at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, which is fun, but I would have liked better if Azzarello made the dig overt. Like with a fucking shovel.
We meet the detectives charged with finding the kid – for about a page and a half – with the only hint that we’re likely to see them again based on the fact that Azzarello bothers to name them, and that this is a Brian Azzarello story. Of course we’re going to meet the detectives again. If the man wrote a Java program, he’d find a way to get a crime story into it.
And sure enough, by the end of the issue, Orson is tied right up in the kidnapping plotline, which means I’m guessing we’ll see some sweet, sweet Eduardo Rizzo shootouts in the not-too-distant future. If you’re not familiar, Rizzo worked with Azzarello on 100 Bullets, Batman: Broken City and a bunch of other books. So his style matches perfectly with Azzarello’s crime work: somewhat abstract, with interesting camera angles and heavy use of shadow and silhouette that’s perfect for a crime story. Being so stylized – for example, he makes Orson look like a fucking bipedal Space Monkey – his art isn’t for everyone. And while it seems to work here in the first issue, it remains to be seen how it will play out on the Martian, sci-fi based stuff throughout the story. But if you liked Rizzo’s art on 100 Bullets, you’ll like it here.
Azzarello and Rizzo are obviously trying to put a lot into this nine-issue miniseries. Mixing cyberpunk and space adventure and a kidnapping story is a recipe for either a sweet pulp cocktail or a Goddamned SyFy Original Saturday Night Movie (RoboStabber Vs. Predator Vs. Parker The Thief! Next, after WWE Oiled Manslapping! Only on SyFy!).
You should be warned: Azzarello is writing in his own speculative street-pidgin dialect that can be… trying to decipher (“The Federalee deeveed the almighty Dollah Bee again.” Um… is this an Internet hooker thing again, Brian?). And while it’s too early to tell how well this story is going to work, there’s no denying that there isn’t anything like it on the stands right now. Particularly since the first issue is only a dollar – one single almighty dollah bee – if you’re a sci-fi fan, you should check it out.