In The Vast of Night, is Humanity Truly Alone?
A green arrow blazes through space, hurtling towards Earth at a speed nothing human has managed without a gravity assist.
Meanwhile, a 12 year-old boy named Tommy is holed up in his treehouse. He’s chatting with his best friends BT and Dylan about Space Journey, the classic science fiction television saga they’ve been working their way through. He and BT argue somewhat-good-naturedly about the possibility of intelligent life existing beyond Earth. It’s a quiet night in their corner of the world.
It’s shaping up to be a quiet night for the kids. Until that is, an eerie shriek splits the darkness, and Tommy catches a glimpse of something that briefly turns the night into an emerald twilight. Tommy’s a curious, courageous kid who’s got his share of reasons to hope for a bigger world. So, when the opportunity to prove that we on our pale blue dot are not alone in the universe arises, Tommy takes it. He’s going to see what fell from the sky.
Space. The… Last Unexplored Land?
They Fell From The Sky is a frustrating comic. Artist Xavier Tárrega and writer Liezl Buenaventura (Heavy Metal)’s first contact comic has a strong protagonist and an interesting scenario, but its execution is uneven at best.
Tárrega’s art is generally solid but brought down by multiple moments of awkward perspective choices and shaky proportion work. Buenaventura’s script succeeds in making Tommy a compelling and dimensional lead, but it burns a lot of time on an unsuccessful piece of metafiction that distracts from her story rather than highlighting it. In both its writing and its art, They Fell From The Sky is a comic that repeatedly gets in the way of its own success.
At his best, Tárrega’s art is eye-catching. His rendering of They Fell From The Sky‘s crashed spaceship is striking, particularly in conjunction with DJ Chavis’ colors, and his characters’ faces can be expressive and full of life. At his worst, the proportions on his bodies go wonky, like a character drawn standing at several different distances away from the panel’s “camera lens” and then assembled from different pieces of those illustrations. In conjunction with some odd angles and stiff paneling, They Fell From The Sky‘s perspective issues become distracting, breaking up the read.
Likewise, Buenaventura’s script has memorable, well-crafted moments — especially when it comes to Tommy’s loving, fraught relationships with his parents and his older sister. Tommy’s a darn good lead, daring and sweet-hearted, starting down the long process of growing up and becoming who he’ll be as an adult.
The trouble is Space Journey. A significant chunk of the dialogue in They Fell From The Sky‘s first issue is given over to Space Journey, and Space Journey does not work. At all. It’s a pastiche of Star Trek, starring one “Captain Dirk,” and Tommy and his pals seriously dig it, enough so that they stay up late to bulldoze their way through the show together. But it never feels real, never feels like something that would capture the imagination of brainy tweens.
Tommy, BT and Dylan talk about Space Journey a lot. They go out of their way to seek out its comics and Tommy identifies closely enough with Captain Dirk to cite him as inspiration for standing up to a bully. But the audience never sees any of Space Journey, neither show nor comic. It’s a cipher, almost but not quite Star Trek: The Original Series, without an identity of its own. It never feels real. The result is a great big hole in the comic.
Compare Space Journey‘s absent presence to the pastiche comics in Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker’s more recent Criminal stories. Like Space Journey, Savage and Deadly Hands are homages to sword and sandal and martial arts comics, and within the story’s universe, their readers dig them something fierce. Unlike Space Journey and They Fell From The Sky, Criminal shows why folks dig them in addition to the fact that they dig them.
The Space Journey pitfall, in conjunction with the familiarity of the Kids on Bikes/Young Person’s First Contact storyform that They Fell From The Sky is working in, makes it a halting and ultimately disappointing read.
It’s all the more frustrating because what does click full-on clicks. Tommy is a strong protagonist, and he closes the issue on an exciting note. I want to see what he will do next, and how he’ll handle the inevitable twists coming his way. I hope that They Fell From The Sky‘s future issues play more to its strengths. As a standalone comic though, I cannot recommend it.
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