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Black Stars Above #2 Review: Unreality

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Black Stars Above #2 Review: Unreality

A short errand becomes an arduous trek.

Eulalie’s errand for the mysterious man is well under way, but nature is quickly getting the better of her.  As she wakes up and sets out again, the harsh elements and unwavering cold seem to have a mind of their own.  All the while, Eulalie might be losing hers. The second issue starts where the first one ended.  So far in these first two issues, the book has employed an effective storytelling technique of ending the issue when Eulalie turns in for the night, and beginning the next issue the following morning.  It enhances the idea that we are experiencing this story through her, and I look forward to see if the trend continues.  Black Stars Above is exploring a number of thematic elements simultaneously through the mind and writings of Eulalie.  We enter this world primarily through Eulalie’s journal entries, but her writings are far from your average diary.  Instead they feel like philosophical musings from an experienced statesmen or scholar.  There’s no definite audience, but there is a confidence and almost an expectation that what she writes will be read.  It’s intelligent, mature, and formal but not in a way that takes you out of the story.  As she searches for any form of civilization, home, the neighboring town, or otherwise, her thoughts revolve around three key themes. Before analyzing their effectiveness, it’s important to outline what they are.

First, there’s nature and humanity’s relationship with the world around us.  As Eulalie wanders through the cold, snowy wilderness, her mind drifts to her mother and father’s conflicting opinions about mother nature.  Her father, ever the European colonizer, believes that the nature, like the rest of the world, is mean to be conquered.  Nature, along with everything else, is simply another battle to be won.  Eulalie’s mother, however, respects nature as a divine force beyond her understanding.  Whatever respect is paid to nature is turned back on humanity.  I’m not saying which theory is right, but Eulalie knows her own limitations.

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There’s also the idea of solitude.  Eulalie is trekking through the wilderness on her own, and those journal entries are all she has.  The emotions and thoughts that creep to the forefront during times like this are frightening, but the strength Eulalie exhibits is extremely rewarding.  Her thoughts and struggles are presented for us to see, and it’s almost as though we experience them along with her… without the freezing temperatures of course.

Black Stars Above #2 Review: Unreality

Finally, and most importantly, there’s the idea of unreality. This is somewhat intertwined with Eulalie’s solitude, but specifically has to do with her disassociation from the world around her.  As she gets engrossed in the mystery that is this creature she is transporting, the supernatural and the real start to become indistinguishable from one another. It isn’t quite the same as madness, as Eulalie’s thoughts appear to still be lucid.  Additionally, these “unreal” elements have equally put Eulalie in greater danger and help her overcome obstacles.  Her derealization with the world around her makes this journey as unreliable as it is engrossing.

Now we have the trek itself and the mysterious creature that Eulalie has to deal with.  All of these elements are a lot to deal with alone, and you get that sense of desperation in the writing.  She’s a fair distance from home and from the neighboring town at this point, and she has no idea if she can find her way back.  Between the cold and snow, this unsettling creature she’s carrying around, the sky going crazy, and her own uncertainties, Eulalie has a lot to balance. While ditching the creature may be what puts her the most at ease, it only seems to cause her to travel in circles. This entire time, we are on the same page as Eulalie.  Besides the physical temperature (unless you’re reading this outside in a snowstorm), we are experiencing Eulalie’s emotions through her writing.  Fear, desperation, dread.  There’s a lot circling Eulalie’s mind and she has to deal with it alone.

Black Stars Above #2 Review: Unreality

Shifting gears for a moment, Jenna Cha is the best debuting artist of 2019.  There, I said it.  The textures on the page and the crispness she brings to even the thinnest lines is stunning.  Look at the page above — the way the snowy texture covers the entire page, as if you can reach out and brush it off the panel borders, or step a few feet forward and possibly see a second Eulalie is amazing. Very few artists can make the characters so intertwined with the natural elements, and this is Jenna Cha’s first published comic!  Cha and Nadler also have a wonderful command over the nine-panel grid.  Every time they use it, they connect the panels in different ways.  Whether it be using the middle panel as a focal point for the others around it, methodically shifting perspectives as though as camera is moving around Eulalie while she’s packing up her camp, or abruptly changing the distance from the subject in order to capture something worth our attention that was just out of view, they are exploiting the versatility of the craft here, and it’s a joy to watch.

Additionally, Brad Simpson’s colors and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s letters only enhance this book.  If you take inventory of the colors used in this issue, it’s predominantly shades of white, pale blue, black, and brown.  Normally not the most exciting colors, but combined with Cha’s clean line work, Simpson is able to add an amazing level of dynamism and texture with his color gradients.  Additionally, the biggest element on all of our minds is the mystery of this creature that Eulalie is bringing with her, and by making the box a bright, contrasting red, the team makes sure we can’t forget it whenever it’s on the page. As far as the lettering choices go, the choice to use parchment-like captions for Eulalie’s journal is extremely effective, especially as the pages seem to become more torn the harder it’s snowing.  The color of the captions and balloons complement the rest of the issue very well.  The balloon placement is also just above or below the focal point of the panels, which draws your eyes to the art just before or after you read the words.  Finally, the balloons for this creature are unnerving and primal no matter how loud it’s screeching.  The combination of the nebulous black balloon interrupted with a sharp SFX is brilliant.

Black Stars Above #2 continues the book’s slow and mysterious build while making sure to always keep your attention focused and suspense high.  Nadler, Cha, Simpson, and Otsmane-Elhaou are bringing an entirely new dimension to horror comics, and it’s a joy to watch.  If you’re a fan of horror or books that pay respect to the craft of comics, check this one out.

Black Stars Above #2
Is it good?
Black Stars Above #2 is a suspenseful, exciting, and terrifying trek through the limits that explores the human condition and the limits of sanity. Nadler, Cha, Simpsion and Otsmane-Elhaou are bringing something new to the current state of horror comics.
Cha is the best artist debuting in 2019. Enough said.
There's a really interesting exploration of intersectionality buried within this horror comic. Eulalie is someone who is torn between two cultures which, combined with expectations around her gender, exert a heavy influence on her future.
A great look at the human psyche during the raw and emotional moment between Eulalie and the creature.
Phenomenal use of the nine-panel grid.
The nature of the book's slow and careful build may make it better to read in trade.
9.5
Great

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