The last year has seen a number of comics drawing on hard science or sci-fi themes hit the shelves. Amongst these have been tales drenched in the bizarre, such as alternate histories or multiple universes, and those spinning stories from less unusual but no less compelling scenarios. Regardless It has certainly been a strong year for the genre, and despite such tough competition, David Hine and Doug Braithwaite’s new series Storm Dogs, out now through Image Comics, is a welcome and intriguing addition.
Opening on the strange landscape of Amaranth, a lush and rugged world painted on the edge of a vast and complex human spacefaring civilization, Storm Dogs immediately establishes its central premise; a murder has taken place here, and a group of outsiders who are tasked with solving it. A relatively familiar set up it could be said, but in framing this within the framework of an entirely new science fiction universe, a hostile alien environment and the concept of planet’s native inhabitants being protected like animals in a nature reserve provides a weight of context that suggests more than a simple homicide investigation.
Details of the wider society is rejected in favour of giving the planet centre stage, however the hints at those organisations and technologies that make up everyday life, particularly that of the outsiders now operating outside their comfort zone, are fascinating and allude to an almost all consuming type of future social media and possible deep set tensions in the group between those focused on the expansion of knowledge and more material interests. How these themes and ideas play out over the course of the series and will link in with the murder case will be fascinating.
One of the most engaging aspects in this initial issue of Storm Dogs is its characters. Eschewing the bombastic and melodramatic, the central figures are introduced as people with jobs to do, lives to live, hopes and fears, and above all else feel they feel believable. Relationships, be they between colleagues or visitors and natives, are handled without flourish, eloquently establishing both the fundamentals and more minor details of the cast without fuss. This deft construction is to be expected of a writer with Hine’s experience, but is always impressive to witness. It is notable that Storm Dogs is relatively dialogue light, yet full of already rich personalities. It stands as a salient lesson for aspiring and established writers alike that despite conjuring such a complex setting for this book its characters are never far from its heart.
This future world of alien creatures and rugged human space pioneers is made lushly and viscerally tangible through the beautiful art of Doug Braithwaite and colours of Ulises Arreola. A sense of reality permeates even this most fantastic of situations, with technology, clothing and buildings all seeming like logical if extreme extensions of current equivalents, and in creating the native animals and environs Braithwaite’s art generates a sense of the unusual and intriguing without stepping into the ridiculous. The fact his art is able to provide an strong emotional beat using simply the eyes of what is essentially Amaranth’s equivalent of a pack horse is sensational, and the air of mystery surrounding the brief appearance of the planet’s aboriginal inhabitants, the beautifully realised Elohi, is also a delight. Arreola’s colours are also key to the world building; nothing is too bright, nothing is too clean, even the freshly laundered clothes of the new arrivals, and the natural elements of the planet, while standing out from its human settlers, aren’t garish and fit perfectly into a world that seems to be constantly lashed by the terrible storms of the title.
Storm Dogs is unusual in all the right ways. It doesn’t overtly revel in its science fiction nature, choosing instead to carefully draw readers into a mystery and leaving them there with a group of individuals who also seem oblivious to that nature of the puzzle; an excellent beachhead from which to approach the following issues. The story has a delightful balance of the familiar and strange combining to provide a gripping and promising start to what could very well be one of the stand out sci-fi books in a year that can already claim several excellent series.