You have to read “Spaceman” slowly. There’s no other way to read it because of the way Brian Azzarello writes it. Taking place in the future, the characters speak a form of English that’s a combination of simplification, dumbing down and slang. It’s not too difficult to figure out, but it also slows you down quite a bit. Thank God. “Spaceman” is a joy because you have to read it slowly, you have to take your time and make an effort to engage with it, connecting the twisted English with Eduardo Risso and Patricia Mulvihill’s dark, moody art. It’s a more fulfilling read than most comics because it demands you meet it halfway rather than sitting back and letting it wash over you.
Orson is a “spaceman,” a genetically altered humanoid ideally suited for space exploration. Since the death of the space program, he spends his days salvaging items of value and has recently rescued a kidnapped child but Tara is no ordinary child. She’s actually one of the many adopted daughters of a celebrity couple and earned her spot in the family on the couple’s reality show. Now, Orson has to figure out how to keep Tara safe, avoid being arrested as the kidnapper and stay alive in the process. When the title was first announced, no expected the Azzarello/Risso sci-fi comic and yet it suits both men perfectly.
Azzarello, always a fan of language games, indulges language on a level he’s never tried before. The variation on English used here makes sense given the omnipresent pop culture and the poverty in which most of the characters live. A lack of education and too much TV would leave anyone saying sentences like “When I eared you was snatched, I felt big bad, worried bout you extra reem” and “I don brain yer idee is any better than mine.”
The story may take place in the future, but its subject matter is familiar Azzarello/Risso fare: a down-on-his-luck guy put in a dangerous situation and struggles to do the right thing while his past haunts him continuously. The world is gritty and broken down, seemingly with a permanent sickly yellow-orange haze. Instead of drenched in darkness, there’s always bright lights casting the sort of shadows Risso does better than anyone else. Much of this issue focuses on Orson and some neighborhood kids who have discovered Tara at his place containing scenes bursting with energy and attitude. Each kid has its own readily apparent personality coming through in every panel. Risso has made the present come alive on the page and now it’s the future.
It’s easy to write off “Spaceman” for being “boring” and not as “exciting” as “100 Bullets,” entrenched in language games and a future where nothing is explained easily. Really, it’s Azzarello and Risso at their very best, using all of their skills to create a fully formed world and cast in an exciting crime story. When the first issue came out, I said it was a ‘must buy’ at one dollar. At three times that price, nothing has changed.