Chen Andalou is an outlaw who has been cryogenically frozen for decades. Now, he awakens in a time he does not recognize! The revolution has arrived.
This book has an exceptional amount of style. In a move similar to the criminally-underrated film Space Station 76, Astro Hustle doesn’t just take place in the far-flung, spacefaring future, it takes place in the 70s film and television conception of the future! We’re talking sweet leather interiors and Buck Rogers-style costuming.
Many of the concepts here are familiar, but to the credit of writer Jai Nitz, they are all cleverly combined into something that feels quite new and refreshing. You’ve got frozen prisoners, space gulags, sky pirates, a junkyard planet, and the one bad cop with a grudge against our hero. I think part of the reason these play so well here is because they ARE tropes, with Astro Hustle being a fun, vibrant synthesis of all of them.
We don’t get much of a feel for Chen’s personality in this first issue, as he spends roughly half of it either still asleep or disoriented. By the time he’s got his head in the game, it’s clear that he’s more than another cookie-cutter Han Solo type. There’s a sense of pride to him that somehow feels earned, even if we don’t quite know his backstory yet.
There is so much worldbuilding taking place here, especally in regards to the illustrations. One of my favorite little touches is the presence of brand logos and patches on the judges presiding over Chen’s trial. It’s perfect visual shorthand for how corrupted the legal system in this universe has become; everyone can be bought.
It should be noted that, even with all of that groundwork being laid, none of it feels overwhelming. The only parts that feel confusing seem that way by design, as Chen is just as surprised by his state of affairs.
Tom Reilly’s artwork is perfectly-suited to the source material, with a kind of 2000 A.D. meets Valerian and Laureline vibe. His designs for space ships and set pieces are an exercise in understated grandeur. Everything looks futuristic, but functional. Aside from the prison cells, all of the surroundings seem designed for sleekness and comfort, without being overly lavish.
The lettering by Crank! enhances the ’70s aesthetic, with fun era-appropriate aesthetic differences between computerized and organic voices. Ursula Decay’s colors bathe the more hoity-toity characters in bright hues, which make the darkened junkyard and the prison seem all the more desperate.
Astro Hustle #1 is an impressive debut for an original series. As I mentioned before, many of the concepts here may seem familiar to longtime genre fans, but it’s what Jai Nitz and company DO with those concepts that make all the difference.