Spoilers. Better yet, people afraid of spoilers. Gotta love it.
Not a lot happens in this first issue, but plot points that are treated as big reveals are given away by the official synopsis. So to avoid any lawsuits filed by people more afraid of spoilers than Coronavirus (keep safe, people), I’ll cut and paste the Dark Horse synopsis in and proceed with a spoilertastic review:
A cultural anthropologist consults with US Naval Intelligence to investigate the discovery of an extraterrestrial ship buried under the ice for thousands of years in Siberia. The meddling Russians, Vatican officials, the international media spotlight, and her own insecurities all threaten her efforts to keep the fabric of society from crumbling.
* A brand-new thriller with blistering art from Andrea Mutti.
I also wanted to include the Dark Horse synopsis because I take issue with that last line. This is what they consider a thriller? Yikes. I’d hate to think what they consider a slow drama.
From the very first scene, I knew this would be a bumpy ride. Opening in a helicopter, Starship Down introduces our protagonist Dr. Young being briefed on the exposition, I mean plot, on her way to the titular dig site with the starship.
First of all, why is this exposition being delivered like this? Exposition is already a necessary dose of boring evil to begin with, so why have it be delivered in an equally boring fashion? Spice it up a bit! Have Dr. Young already be on the dig site so we can be wowed by the visuals of the dig site to help the medicine go down. Or, even better, don’t give us all this exposition in the first place. This is a comic. Comics are a visual medium. Maybe let the visual do more of the talking?
Once Young lands, we’re introduced to a bevy of characters whose names I have to look up. The only interesting one, and that includes Young, is a pious priest whose prickly attitude is cliché but more invigorating than anything else here.
The only other event comes at the end when it’s revealed, spoilers, that this buried, ancient spaceship—houses frozen cavemen! Which led me to—in my shock—shrug. For all the lead-up and hype, this reveal isn’t that striking. I could get more interesting takes on prehistoric aliens and ancient man by watching that stupid History Channel show, which is most definitely where Starship Down’s origin stems from. More likely Arrival now that I think about it. But Arrival was less about ALIENS! than an exploration of communication and fate.
To be fair, a story about ancient ALIENS! could be done with panache. But there’s none of that here. The stale characters and dialogue are suffocatingly dry and straining for credibility. Hard sci-fi has its place in the comics medium. Not everything has to be Star Wars. However, that’s no excuse for bad writing.
Oh, one more note: there’s a page where Dr. Young is patted down TSA style, ie, sexually assaulted. Why is that included? One could be generous and say it’s to reflect badly on the male characters by showing how creepy and dangerous they are. But it’s drawn with the male gaze in mind. It’s as if the writer and artist are saying: “Yes, isn’t it bad how she’s groped? But, uh, check out her butt. And she’s pretty stacked, huh?” It’s creepy alright, but not for the reasons you dudes intended.
As for the art by Andrea Mutti, it’s serviceable. Not exactly “blistering” as Dark Horse describes it (but they have a killer PR person over there). Composition, panels, and designs are exceedingly standard and nothing pushes any boundaries. Equal attention is given to everything, which is nice, whether that be a helicopter or a character close-up. When the plot moves to the dig site, there are many panels that skimp on scale and undersell how large this operation should be revealed.
Things could escalate quickly from here, but even if they did, the sleepy writing and average art don’t set a good precedent.