Space Doubles Collection #1: Set the Controls

Th3rd World Studios' Space Doubles is a project that I admire out of proportion to how much I actually enjoyed it. Combining horror and science fiction dates back to the infancy of the SF genre-- after all, many consider Frankenstein to be the very first science fiction novel. There were plenty of pulp stories to crossbreed these genres, and the EC Comics of the 50's like Weird Science were only the most famous of the many comic titles of this ilk. With this new collection, Th3rd World clearly wants to pick up the standard and continue the tradition, which I totally support in theory. I just wish I liked the book more than I do.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I'm not a huge fan of short stories, be they in prose or comic form. It's like hearing a joke; you can't tell if it's a good joke until you get to the punchline. The difference is, a joke takes 20 seconds or so to tell, but you have to invest a bit longer in a story. And if the end doesn't work for me I feel like I wasted my time reading it in the first place. And in the rare case I like a story, I then sometimes wish the author could have fleshed it out and made a proper book out of it. If I am reading a book and I'm not enjoying it, I've been known to bail, or at least skip to the end. With a short story, it seems silly to quit once I've started, so I slog on and hope the "punchline" redeems my time investment.

Space Doubles was originally released as a miniseries with a flip-book format. The title derives from the fact that each side of the book had an 11 or 12 page story, from a variety of different creators. There are more than six stories in this collection because some of these were meant for the never-published fourth and fifth issues, and therefore are presented here for the first time. The book is unfortunately in black and white, but that is no doubt a necessity for a rookie publisher in a merciless marketplace.

"Red Rain" by Mike Raicht and Alecia Rodriguez concerns a mysterious mist which clouds the moon, and an intrepid band of astronauts which is sent to investigate. What they find is bad-- very bad. Both the script and the art are pretty good, but at the end of the day it's just another alien invasion story.
Rating: 7/10

"Everywhere I Look...Bugs!" by Scott Closter (the creator of this series) and Philip Schaufelberger is a pretty neat idea for a mind-bending story hobbled by iffy artwork. It concerns a pretty boy media darling who goes slightly bonkers after a transportation mission to bring flora and fauna to the terraformed moon of Titan. It has a great creepy vibe and twisty finale; it's too bad the main character, supposedly pegged as "James Dean of the Moons" by the media, looks more like Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Oof.
Rating: 6.5/10

"A Saucerful of Secrets" by Jason Hall, Ron Chan and Rich Ellis explores the interesting idea that in the future everyone's life is a blog, but if the public becomes too bored with your experiences you get filed away in a life support tube instead of leeching off our valuable resources. The lead character has already lost his girlfriend and now he's desperate to make his life more interesting.
Rating: 7.5/10

"Escape Pod" by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Huynh is a somewhat lightweight entry about a supermarket clerk confined by modern living and puzzled about his former life prior to a car accident that left him with amnesia. The answer is pure wish-fulfillment, baby. Huynh has an interesting style reminiscent of Paul Pope, but he needs to work a little more on things like perspective.
Rating: 6/10

My favorite story in this collection is "Sympathizers" by Justin Robinson and Aneurin Wright, which actually uses the short format to good purpose by giving us a long view of relations between humanity and a sympathetic alien race that comes to Earth seeking asylum and a new start. Turns out their homeworld was ravaged by war and the Quagaar have relocated to escape their warmongering brethren. Initially they are welcomed with open arms, but relations become decidedly strained when the violent tribes from their homeworld begin spreading out and attacking human colonies.
Rating: 8.5/10

"The Liberty Movement" by Dwight L. MacPherson and Kevin Mellon is a pretty good little alternate timeline future Nazi Empire tale. To say that Gestapo interrogator Niklas Rommel is conflicted in his work is an understatement to say the least. A visit from the leather-clad freedom fighter called the Liberator changes everything. Manages to be both fun and dark, no easy feat.
Rating: 8/10

"AKA" by Ben Raab, Deric Hughs and Pat Quinn is a lame serial killer story that I wasn't feeling in any way.
Rating: 5/10

"Project Obeah" by Leah Moore, John Reppion, and Jeremy Dale is a perfectly serviceable zombies in space tale that doesn't transcend the genre in any noticeable way. A bit of a Twilight Zone style twist at the end isn't enough to distinguish it from any number of other zombie tales on the stands these days.
Rating: 7.5/10

"Finite" by Andrew Dabb and Lee O'Conner is a super-creepy exploration of what happens when a fairly desperate man has the power to perform a mercy killing on an entire devolving culture. Brutal.
Rating: 8/10

"Rehab" by Mike Baron and David Newbold has the worst art in the issue by far, and the story is far from Baron's best either. It's about a failed bank robber with robotics skills who strikes up an unlikely friendship with the warden. Really.
Rating: 4/10

So there you have it: as you can see, a decidedly mixed bag. I leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide if a cumulative rating of 6.8 is good enough to warrant a buy. If you skip the few duds, you will probably have a better overall experience than I did. I wish Th3rd World well with future annuals in this series, but in this instance I sure wish I could have checked this out of the public library instead of shelling out... however much I paid for this thing. How do comic shops know what to charge for this-- I can't find a price anywhere on it!


Shem said...

I don't think I've ever seen a good, ongoing short story anthology comic other than Negative Burn, and they had the likes of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland as regular contributors -- Ben Raab ain't in that league. Sounds like you're being more generous than I would've.

Space Cadet Juan said...

I dunno, Shem, I think I'm a pretty tough grader. Though I'm still get used to the idea that when I pan somebody's work, there's every chance they might actually read it.

I'm pretty sure I read a Ben Raab story that I liked once... I wanna say Union Jack? His stuff doesn't exactly stick in your head, that's for sure.

Paul said...

hey Juan, I love your blog (even if comics etc. are not my forte) the layout and style are great. I'm gonna show it to Adara- you will be her pop-culture guru!