Collecting the recent IDW series from Shelly Bond’s Black Crown imprint – itself breathing much needed fresh life into serial comics delivery on a monthly basis and continuing to defy easy genre classifications – Euthanauts: Ground Control gives us a distinctly different exploration of death in comics.
Tini Howard, Nick Robles and company’s science fantasy thriller is a difficult book to define. On one level it’s an epic tale of cosmic discovery with a supernatural flavour but on another it’s an examination of perhaps the most fundamental mystery of the human condition and a strangely relatable character piece.
After a near-death experience following a seemingly random assault in a restaurant restroom by dying academic Mercy Wolfe, funeral home receptionist Thalia Rosewood finds herself inducted into a team of explorers on a singular mission – to discover the realities of the realm beyond life.
As the beneficiary of Wolfe’s estate, Thalia soon realises her connection to Mercy is more than just a financial one as she becomes linked to the recently deceased (but not entirely departed) scientist in ways she could never have imagined. Slowly the dark secrets of the Euthanauts are revealed as past family dramas are contrasted with voyages into the mysterious and terrifying plane of the afterlife…
Howard takes the concept of that one universal leveller and our relationship with it and spins it off into new territory; certainly not stripping death of any sense of fear or the unknown but recasting it as a new domain, a true new frontier to be conquered by this intrepid, if slightly oddball, team of metaphysical pioneers. Ensuring that the narrative’s unsettling conditions are mirrored in the reading experience, the audience are thrown into a story that rarely pauses and makes few concessions to narrative exposition. Instead Howard prefers to build mystery upon mystery and surprise the reader with unlikely twists and turns, manipulating their expectations with her interweaving plotlines. Indeed, there’s no spoonfeeding here at all and Howard is unafraid to make the reader work that little bit harder to get the maximum reward from the book’s pages.
The dialogue between characters is snappy and entertaining without lapsing into self-indulgence and losing its naturalism. That’s mirrored in Nick Robles’ visual characterisation and a diverse cast of players of varied body types and looks who add to the feeling that the reader is investing in rounded, carefully defined characters. It’s Robles’ deft ability to juxtapose the acute realism of a very recognisable mortal world with the enigmas of the next one, though, that is perhaps the most vitally important component of Euthanauts‘ visual storytelling. His tightly panelled earthbound pages often opening up into unconventionally structured variants when we visit the death dimension, expanding our sense of awe and wonder when we observe the team in those sequences. Adding to the unsettling atmosphere de la Cruz and Robles’ muted yet striking colouring emphasises the brooding underlying tension that permeates every page.
This creative team give us a world where the concept of death moves beyond the confines of mere religious transcendance and becomes an unexplored realm in and of itself. Disquieting and disconcerting yet hypnotic and compelling, Euthanauts is the most human of stories wrapped up in the ultimate metaphysical mystery, and undoubtedly one of the strongest offerings in the Black Crown line to date.
Tini Howard (W), Nick Robles (A/C), Eva de la Cruz (C), Aditya Bidikar & Neil Uyetake (L) • IDW Publishing/Black Crown, $19.99
Review by Andy Oliver