Space Clusters – DC Graphic Novel 7

By Arthur Byron Cover & Alex Niño (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0930289140 (Album PB)

Ever had a greebley, itchily irritating, unsuitable day when everything – even physical laws and common sense – seem to have taken spiteful umbrage at you? Well, those get more frequent the older you get.

If you actually reach a vintage and vantage where it’s commonplace, the only remedy – albeit short-lived – is to have a moan and whine about something else. As displacement strategies go, it’s generally non-addictive and satisfying in the short-term, and maybe somebody, somewhere will listen…

My go-to subject whenever that happens is superb graphic works that have been left to fade away without even digital versions made for posterity. Like this one…

During the 1980s DC, like many publishers galvanised by new print-formats and price-tags, attempted to liberate comics narratives from previous constraints of size, format and 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 for content and embraced the European Album size and 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 which adapted classic short stories and novellas into highly experimental graphic narratives and a general catch-all… the DC Graphic Novel Series.

Often – at least in sequential narrative terms – there’s not much discernible difference between the two, but since this a safe space to review and promote graphic novels, please be assured that this is one that works excessively well: evocative, bold and beautifully realised.

To accompany in-house landmarks like Jack Kirby’s Hunger Dogs and licensed material like Star Raiders and Warlords, DC commissioned all-new tales such as the spectacular, 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 lavish full-colour illustration of the most stylish, uncompromisingly impressive artists of the 1970s Filipino invasion – Alex Niño.

He was born in 1940, son of and later assistant to a professional photographer. Alex 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 DeZuñiga in the first wave of Islands artists to work for DC, Marvel, Gold Key and Warren. A stand-alone stylist even amongst his talented confederates, Niño started on DC’s supernatural anthologies 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 onto character driven 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(and where’s that longed for collection, while we’re whining?) as well as the stunning Savage Sword of Conan classic ‘People of the Dark’ and assorted inking jobs on 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 erotica title 1984/1994 before largely leaving the industry for Hollywood design work.

True afficionados might also seek out his stint on Archie’s The Comet and Shield/Steel Sterling whilst DC’s Thrillerand Omega Men were fairly impressive swan-songs. He also worked for a variety of smaller companies during the 1980s Independents boom and the curious should track down his one-man band Alex Niño’s Nightmare #1, featuring translated Filipino material, published in 1989 by Innovation.

He 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, Dead Ahead and Batman: Black and White.

Offering overtones of Les Miserables and The Forever War, Space Clusters opens 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 instantly adored by every race and sentient species he encounters …

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 fantastic will want to miss, especially as the expanded page size and enhanced colour palette gave Niño ample opportunity to let his fantastic imagination run wild.

It’s an inexpressible pity that its out of print (but at least copies are still readily available from online vendors) and this is an experiment DC should seriously consider reviving and resuming. So why don’t we do that then?…
© 1986 DC Comics Inc. All rights reserved.