It used to be, before most of us were born, that comics were made about anything that was popular. Westerns, war stories, romance, celebrities: whatever people were into, comics would jump on it. Then for several decades superheroes were totally dominant, but that's starting to come back around again. Today, readers' ideas about what comics can be and do has been expanded by companies like Oni, Boom, and Image.

What I'm getting at here is that there was once a version of the comics industry in which it would be surprising that it's taken this long for there to be a comic book about a cooking competition show. But in this reality, even as someone who watches and loves cooking shows, it never occurred to me that this was a possibility. But here we are, with the first issue of Space Battle Lunchtime, an Oni comic with words and art by Natalie Riess.

The hook of the comic is that the titular reality cooking show, as the name implies, takes place in outer space. The main character is Peony, an Earthling and aspiring baker who works in a coffee shop. When another contestant drops out, she's pulled out of the world she knows and onto a space station where she's expected to created prize-winning dishes out of alien ingredients, in competition with a bunch of alien chefs who seem to know what they're doing.


The art is a delight throughout. Natalie Riess has a background in webcomics (she's the creator behind Snarlbear), so it's no surprise that she arrives in print comics with a strong grasp on storytelling and character. The book is full of different races of aliens, and Riess displays endless inventiveness with their shapes and garments. She also injects Peony, our human protagonist, with plenty of inherent personality.

After only one issue we don't know Peony well, but she displays an appealing mix of confidence and bafflement. It's important that even though she doesn't quite know what's going on, she volunteers to be a competitor. When Zonda, the show's froglike producer, asks if Peony has what it takes to be "the greatest chef in the galaxy," she emphatically, excitedly, says yes. Even though she's in way over her head, it would be harder to root for her if she wasn't a great cook who knows she's great.

Zonda's a likable character herself, so it adds drama to the story that her job is on the line if Peony can't perform. There are obviously backstage politics going on that we don't yet fully understand, which adds to the fun. We also meet the show's head producer, a multi-armed bird-insect named Flaaxia, who looks to be an antagonist for both Zonda and Peony. The host of the show, Zorp the Octahedral, is an enigmatic geometric shape who is definitely friendlier than Flaaxia, but a mystery beyond that. There's also a very friendly green camera operator named Aris.



The character I'm most fascinated with is yet unnamed, and only has one line in the first issue. She's one of the other competitors on the show, and she first appears when Peony trips over a camera cord and falls into her arms. She's a blue-scaled humanoid with a forelock of hair and a militaristic-looking outfit. I don't want to jump the gun and proclaim that there will definitely be overt queer elements in Space Battle Lunchtime, but that moment looked a lot like a meet-cute, with both characters staring speechless into each other's eyes, and I'm excited to see what this character is like when we have a chance to get to know her.



And that reflects a lot of what's going on in this first issue: Things are set up, and the series feels full of potential, but most of the story is yet to be told. But this food-centric concept is vastly different from what most comics offer, and it's a lot of fun to read. I don't want to give away the cliffhanger of the issue, but it depicts a moment common to one of my favorite real-world cooking shows, with a sci-fi twist that has me wondering how Peony can possibly get out of this. Wherever Space Battle Lunchtime goes, I will be back to read it.


Cover by Natalie Riess


Space Battle Lunchtime #1 will be available on May 4. An advance digital copy was provided by the publisher for review.