Space Clusters – DC Graphic Novel #7

By Arthur Byron Cover & Alex Niño (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-930289-14-0

During the 1980s DC, like many publishers large and small galvanised by fresh print-formats and price-tags, attempted to free comics narrative from its previous constraints of size and format as well as content.

Graphic novels were still an unproven quantity in America and Big Guns DC and Marvel as well as angelic upstarts First and Comico adopted a kind of scattershot “suck it and see” attitude, although all parties were apparently content on switching decided on the now extinct (more’s the pity) 8½ by 11 inch European Album page format.

Whereas the House of Ideas had a solid publishing plan that didn’t stray too far from their usual periodical product, DC looked to expand or overlap markets by creating “boutique” imprints such as the Science Fiction Graphic Novel line (adapting classic short stories and novellas into highly experimental graphic narratives) and the plain old catch-all – if unimaginative – DC Graphic Novel Series. Often, at least in sequential narrative terms, there’s not much discernible difference between the two.

However, as this is a place to review and promote graphic novels, please be assured that this is one that works excessively well; evocative, bold and beautifully realised.

To accompany such venerable in-house landmarks as Jack Kirby’s Hunger Dogs and licensed material like Star Raiders and Warlords, the company commissioned all-new tales such as the spectacular and unique and eons-spanning cosmic fantasy of the Space Clusters.

Scripted by author Arthur Byron Cover (Autumn Angels, An East Wind Coming) the true lure here is the lavish full-colour illustration of the most stylish and uncompromisingly impressive artists of the 1970s Filipino invasion – Alex Niño.

The artist was born in 1940, son of and later assistant to a professional photographer. He studied medicine at University of Manila but dropped out in 1959 to pursue his dream of being a comics artist.

He apprenticed with Jess Jodloman and worked on a number of successful features before following Tony DeZuniga in the first wave of Islands artists to work for DC, Marvel and Warren. A stand-alone stylist even amongst his talented confederates, Niño started on DC’s anthology mystery series such as House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion, Secrets of Sinister House, Weird War Tales, Weird Mystery Tales and The Witching Hour before moving into series such as Korak, Son of Tarzan, Space Voyagers and period Caribbean pirate Captain Fear which he co-created with Robert Kanigher.

His Marvel work included adaptations for their own “illustrated Classics” line and landmark interpretations of Ellison’s ‘“Repent Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman’ and Moorcock’s ‘Behold the Man’ for Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction as well as the stunning Savage Sword of Conan classic ‘People of the Dark’ and miscellaneous inking work in the superhero titles.

He found his fullest expression in Warren Publishing’s mature-oriented magazines Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and the outrageously over-the-top sci-fi title 1984/1994 before largely leaving the industry for Hollywood design work, although a stint on Archie’s The Comet and Shield/Steel Sterling and DC’s Thriller and Omega Men were fairly impressive swan-songs. He also worked for a variety of smaller companies during the 1980s Independents boom and curious true-fans should try to track down his one-man band Alex Niño’s Nightmare #1 featuring translated Filipino material, published in 1989 by Innovation.

He has since occasionally returned to comics in such titles as Dark Horse Presents, Shaman, John Jakes’ Mullkon Empire, Savage Sword of Conan and God the Dyslexic Dog.

With overtones of Les Miserables and The Forever War, the saga begins here as beloved rogue and man of the people Ethan Dayak is finally cornered by dedicated Earth cop Lieutenant Kara Basuto of the Terran Interplanetary Corps on a far-flung alien world.

She has pursued the smuggler of decadent art across the universe at sub-light speeds for eighty years, aging only when she hits a new planet and emerges from suspended animation.

Kara is cold, fanatical and dedicated whilst Dayak is an affable, personable and loving man every race and sentient species he encounters instantly adores…

During their latest confrontation Ethan again escapes, thanks to the intervention of his latest paramour, causing the increasingly remorseless Basuto to finally cross the line and kill civilians…

Crushed, defeated and despondent Dayak sets course for the edge of the galaxy, intending to sleep his way to infinity but even this does not deter Basuto who implacably follows.

Time becomes nothing and eventually both fall into the event horizon of a Black Hole where something incredible happens: both are transformed into supernal, sentient energy phenomena, still trapped in their course of flight and relentless pursuit…

However here at the end of space and time a mighty new race populates the universe and how these ancient new gods deal with the last life of the cosmos makes for a powerful and beguiling drama no fan of the genre will want to miss, especially as the expanded page size and enhanced colour palette give Niño ample opportunity to let his fantastic imagination run wild.

It’s an inexpressible pity they’re all currently out of print and this is an experiment the company should seriously consider resuming. Moreover, as I’ve stated before: these DC Science Fiction graphic novels would make an irresistible “Absolute” compilation…
© 1986 DC Comics Inc. All rights reserved.