The way things are going, it's won't be much longer before we start referring to Image Comics as "that European sci-fi publisher.... but American." Over the last few years, Image has been host to a string of challenging and offbeat titles with strong Euro SF influences, and so far they've all been exceptional. With the combined comics goodness of Saga, Prophet, Nowhere Men, Black Science, and Starlight, stylish science fiction is trending upwards, and with Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein's forthcoming Drifterthe trend continues.

In advance of the November release of Drifter #1 (final order cutoff is next week, for you pre-orderers and retailers), Image has provided ComicsAlliance with an advance copy of the book, and boy, is it purdy.

Drifter starts with a bang. On the run from an unidentified assailant, Abram Pollux crash-lands on a mysterious planet, barely surviving only to get shot by whoever was chasing him. Resigned to his own stupidity and unavoidable fate, he closes his eyes, ready to die. When he opens them again, he's in the middle of a small settlement that seems to have popped up out of nowhere, being brought back to life by Lee Carter, the local doctor-slash-law enforcement. Somehow, Pollux survived, and in the backwater settlement of Ghost Town, he's on the lookout for the man who shot him, and wondering why he didn't just die in the desert. When he investigates the crash, a chilling, impossible discovery flips Drifter upside-down, and sends it off into the unknown.

Brandon and Klein manage to scratch a few specific science fiction itches at once: frontier, Sci-Fi/Western, and mysterious big concept SF. A smuggler/outlaw story about a precarious existence, and the refutation of physical laws, Drifter is spare, intriguing, and ridiculously gorgeous.

 

 

In the first issue of Drifter, writer Brandon gets a lot of mileage out of relatively little with respect to the plot, withholding information and leaving the reader somewhat grasping at straws, trying to come up with conclusions when only a very small part of the bigger picture is visible. We have no idea what Pollux was running from, the particulars of the world he crashed on, how he managed to survive, or what happened between being shot and waking up. From his terse interior monologue, though, we know he's dangerous, self-hating, and totally unequipped to do anything about his discovery.

Nevertheless, and thanks to the immersive visuals provided by Klein, Drifter is filled with characters that are simultaneously enigmatic and somehow well-defined. Pollux is much more fascinating and complex than a typical SF outlaw. He wears his "bad news" designation with a mixture of pride and self-loathing, and regards Carter with both gratitude and wariness. As the marshal/medic of the larval stage of what might be a civilization someday, Carter believes in what Ghost Town could be, but is clearly pragmatic: willing to make sacrifices, and understanding that the law is different on the edge of space. Thrust into the dynamic between Pollux and Carter is the weird and intense preacher-man Arkady. About as welcome as an Ebola scare (topical!), Arkady shadows Pollux around Ghost Town like a walking skeleton with a Bible, an intense presence in a story much stranger than at first glance.

 

 

Honestly, at the level artist Klein is operating on, Brandon could have let his cat run over the keyboard for twenty minutes, saved the file, and sent that in as the script, and Drifter would still be arresting. Klein has exhibited a lot of ingenuity and versatility on titles like Winter Soldier, Doc Savage, and his previous collaboration with Brandon, Viking, but in Drifter, he manages to evolve his art by playing it down. Klein typically uses shifty and elaborate layouts and organizations in his page designs -- not something I'm complaining about. He has a unique way of doing it, with chopped-up panes and trails of writhing insets; microcosmic moments frozen in a larger frame. In Drifter, though, he adopts a much more straightforward presentation, and it's to the book's benefit. Dropping tricky full-page designs for simpler layouts with larger panels, his backgrounds are given more nuance, his landscapes allowed room to breathe, and his textured and complex colors dominating every page. The result is an alien world that conveys as much story as the words on the page.

If you weren't already spending enough money on sci-fi comics published by Image -- actually, even if you are -- go ahead add Drifter #1 to the shopping list for November 12.