A Story of Personal Discovery and Rebellion
Written and illustrated by Sam Webster – Unfamiliar Skies is a story set in an unknown future time where humanity has begun to explore the Universe, attempting to find a new Earth-like home. As they journey onwards on their colony ship, they find that the galaxy is vast and certainly not human-centric, feeling sometimes overwhelmed and alone in the darkness of the vacuum which surrounds them, a realization is present that, while not being insignificant, the universe does not depend on humanities survival for its own existence.
This is the background to which we are introduced to Claris Muston, a 19-year-old, unsure of her personal future aboard the colony ship, resentful of the present which is chosen for her as a colonist, she steals a spaceship and begins to journey forward into the as yet unexplored reaches of Space. Within the first few pages, the reader is introduced to the various dangers which befall anyone traveling in a spacecraft, as her mother berates her for leaving her responsibilities behind on a com-link, Claris simultaneously fends off an attack by a massive grey dragon-like creature with several dark maws for eyes.
It is through this encounter that we learn although Claris is rash, impulsive and displays an apparent disregard for her families feelings, she is, at least, fairly resourceful. She dives straight for the nearest planet and as the heat of orbital entry begins to burn the metal hull of her tiny ship and warp it she is counting on the same happening to the void wyrm. She is correct and as she crashes into the vaguely crystalline surface of the planet, the Void Wyrm howls in agony and frustration as it’s flesh cooks and singes.
So begins Claris’ solo journey through the stars, she encounters a native repair merchant, who seems a little shady and becomes embroiled in stealing a valuable artifact from a crime syndicate, is double-crossed and chased through space until eventually captured and given a surprising deal which hinges on a shocking familial revelation.
Issue #2 opens with an explosive confrontation with a powerful alien in a bar, the fight further reinforces Claris is adaptable and tough, eventually, she meets up with her father and demands answers. As he attempts to explain why he didn’t attempt to leave the planet that he clearly wasn’t trapped on, an assassin has been deployed – his target is Claris.
There’s a successful attempt for the writer/artist to ‘world build’ setting a tone of vastness both in terms of locale for the comic book world and also for characterization. Claris is initially very difficult to empathize with, but Webster realizes that in order to make the transition from a precocious teenager on the final cusp of adulthood to a wise, strong, capable woman cannot be accomplished credibly with any amount of speed. This is after all not just a narrative regarding intergalactic travel and battles, but also a story of an individual attempting to try and find their place within the universe and discover intrinsic personal truths at the same time.
It’s a very accessible title and contains moments with dynamic action scenes and dialogue which is feasible – given the setting – alien cultures don’t automatically speak English and we see in the speech bubbles some beautifully artistic but incomprehensible phrases being uttered, with Claris – like the reader – attempting to understand exactly what is being said or implied. In this regard we are going on a journey with this character and as the issues develop I am sure we will continue on that journey and find our initial perceptions of her challenged and feel rewarded by the positive transformative nature of the ongoing development of the heroine and universe in which she resides.
The artwork is distinctive, and whilst I would have liked to have seen more detail on the main character’s face during the first issue, this seems to have been rectified by issue two. The alien characters are imaginative and each one distinctive. The panels project a cinematic style at times, with the artist’s strengths seemingly geared towards close-ups in dramatic poses.
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