Written by Fred Kennedy
Illustrated by Miko Maciaszek
Review by Billy Seguire
In distant space, humanity has only just regained its freedom after decades of enslavement to a brutal alien empire. Yet their future could determine the course of history for an entire world. The first free human ship in years is crashing, interpreted as a sign from the stars by two feudal races lingering on the edge of a planetary war that could be ignited at any moment. This is where The Fourth Planet #1 opens. Drawing heavily from mythology and fantasy in the delivery of a carefully paced sci-fi tale, the team-up of Fred Kennedy and Miko Maciaszek shows real potential in its beginnings, pushing their comic to stand out with extreme visual distinctiveness and artistic creativity that builds the foundation for something truly epic yet to come.
One of the comic’s most pervasive features is the mythological tone present in the writing throughout. Although set in space and on an alien world, the story really does feel more like history than science-fiction. Much of this opening issue contains prose text that reads as a mix of scripture, prophecy, and historical document for the races of the planet, giving a sense of weight to the world and an ancientness that supports the story Kennedy is trying to introduce. The work put into it pays off by making the arrival of the human population feel like a foreign intrusion, forcibly upsetting the natural order by its very presence. There’s a real sense of familiarity in scope here, and the tone created by the writing and visuals working together helps achieve it.
While the bulk of this first issue is appropriately spent mostly on world building rather than story, the embryonic glimpse we get into several character’s lives drew me in and kept the comic grounded on a personal level. Ixandra, for example, beautiful courtesan and female member of the dominant alien race, is a complicated mix of power and vulnerability. It is clear that there are roles within her culture that she is adhering to, and questions are raised about whether that’s a good thing. There’s something more to her that’s bound to be explored in further issues. Likewise, a Ranger we see from the Foon race demonstrates absolute faith and determination in an audience with his tribe’s ruler. While we don’t get as clear a look at him personally, his culture, tribe, and visual depictions immediately put us in mind of an underdog barbarian, desperate for the spoils of battle.
There’s little symmetry between the two races taking their place in the foreground of this issue, and to me that’s intriguing. It allows for a wider scope of world and stops the sides from appearing too similar. If both had viewpoints coming from similar stations or cultures, it would be easy to draw conclusions at this point about where the story is headed. The world Maciaszek and Kennedy are creating is larger than that. I can see myself becoming invested in these characters, and others in time, for different reasons between each.
Visually, the art choices for The Fourth Planet #1 are both thematically appropriate and wonderfully personal. The use of a limited colour palette highlights the extraordinary use of reds within the series, showcasing the colour against pale whites, soft blues, and greys in a stylistically strong statement that fits perfectly within the time period of the alien world. Scenes within the human ship meanwhile use a heavy, nearly overwhelming amount of blacks, and there is an amazing use of light within this comic, contrasting from the blackness of space to the bright and airy seaside sun. Maciaszek makes great use of angles to give scope to the world as it’s revealed and truly make it feel alien. Characters aren’t always a hundred percent consistent in their forms, but with art used primarily to tell the story it accomplishes the difficult task of conveying emotion and pathos on non-human features, even taking those familiar human features and repurposing them to continue the story’s push to make their presence feel invasive.
Technically speaking, these skilled illustrative abilities have such an impact on the story that I’m compelled to talk about them in depth. I’m more versed in story than art, but there’s so much in the art here that contributes to how the comic resonates with me as a reader. The images in this series look like watercolours over sketches, with the presence of brush-strokes and smudges within the work constantly remind you of the handmade, ancient technique that puts these images on the page. It makes the story feel older, supporting the historical lean of the storytelling. These felt like depictions of myths like Prometheus or The Trojan War, and I was more willing to allow myself a reading with that mindset because of the visual clues with what I was seeing. James Borchek, for example, the leader of humanity’s liberated slave race, has the aesthetics of a Roman statue. The thick, dark hair and beard, along with furrowed brow and determined eyes, tell the story of a man beaten down and hardened as a soldier. The hand drawn letters in dialogue further enforce this, as the stories and prophecies we are told become ancient words inked into the myth itself.
VERDICT: Check It Out. This will be a different type of story for a lot of people, but if alien worlds intrigue you and you’re willing to take a few steps into the unknown, The Fourth Planet #1 rewards readers with stunningly unique visuals and a dense mythology. The original culture and society created here makes this comic stand out and the art is seriously blowing me away. I’m holding back on a firm opinion on this series until we see just how the human and alien races will actually interact, but I’m also very glad that hasn’t happened yet. Confidence in allowing the book to take a slower pace shows maturity on the part of the storytellers, ultimately giving us a glimpse into humanity’s future where the humans are the least interesting bit. So far, I’d take the risk and pick this one up.
The Fourth Planet #1 releases April 20, 2016 from Chapterhouse Comics