Writer Ed Brisson brings together a couple of familiar story ideas and combines them into a very accessible and likable introduction to a new sci-fi series in "Cluster" #1, drawn by Damian Couceiro. The series is a kind of "Aliens" meets "The Fugitive" meets "Starship Troopers" sci-fi thriller that follows the story of pseudo-celebrity Samara Simmons, who faces a fifteen year sentence of military-type service on an alien planet after a causing a DUI casualty. It's either that or a presumable life sentence in prison, a hook with which Brisson immediately snags readers on the story's very first page.
That hook serves its purpose, and then Brisson immediately moves his story along with a brief introduction to Samara at the scene of a horrible car accident. The scene is eerily captured by Couceiro, who also opens with the familiar device of the main protagonist awakening moments after a traumatic incident. It's effective, though, as Couceiro shows Samara's bloodied first view of the horrific crash's aftermath while she tries to reconcile the terrible scene before her much the same way readers are asked to. The dark, rainy atmosphere is also appropriately rendered by colorist Michael Garland, who sticks to a pretty minimal palette until revealing the fiery source of Samara's accident.
This quick setup gives way to a few years in the future, when Samara finds herself facing the first day of her sentence light years from home. Brisson comes very close to falling into a typical first-day-in-prison scenario but freshens it up with Samara's characterization as a woman who has an abrasive edge about her but also tries to take the high ground in unexpected situations. A fellow convict Grace also demonstrates an unexpected side when attempting to befriend her. Brisson softens a lot of the expected hard prison talk; inmate Halleran is almost cordial to the new arrivals, for example, and the tough talk where it is used is peppered with clever jabs and one-liners. The change-ups to all of the potential stereotypes makes Brisson's story more engaging than some might expect.
Couceiro's art has a grungy edge that suits both the barren, alien-occupied world that's being colonized as well as the cold and cramped metallic confines of Samara's new home. There's nothing inherently original in any of Couceiro's designs, but it plays into the same methodology Brisson employs for the plot by fusing past ideas into something more creative. With its multiple celestial bodies dominating the sky and desert environment, the planet of Midlothian might as well be Tatooine, but then Tatooine didn't have a military base or a prison that anyone ever saw. The prison common area and inevitable skirmish within could be straight out of "Guardians of the Galaxy" or countless other films, but it doesn't really matter, because these are just devices to further Brisson's story, which is built on the characters more so than the setting.
Brisson adds another successful launch to his diverse resume with "Cluster" #1, incorporating some well-used building blocks to establish a character-driven science fiction story that makes for an entertaining and engaging beginning.