With a brand-new property, I’m normally in favor of a fast-paced first issue, so that the reader has enough plot to get a good grasp of what’s to come (and stick around for future installments). In the case of Natalie Riess’ “Space Battle Lunchtime” #1, the debut issue is a little slow on plot, but I didn’t mind, and that’s because she found a different tactic: instead of wheeling out a ton of plot, just serve up plate after plate of charm.
The overall concept is pretty easy to understand: Peony, a pastry chef in a little cafe, is suddenly offered a chance to be in a cooking competition to determine the greatest chef in the galaxy. It’s only when she agrees that she discovers it isn’t hyperbole and she’s beamed up to a space station, where she goes up against aliens from different, far-off worlds. That’s really all there is to it for now; the issue quickly sets that up, then goes from there to Peony’s reactions to her new surroundings and the people inhabiting it. This could have quickly collapsed if it wasn’t for Peony’s overall likable nature.
Riess has found a good balance of naivety and drive for Peony; she’s sometimes in awe of what’s happening to her, but we see a creative woman who’s ready to show her stuff just as often. We get the latter early on, as she admits she’s not supposed to be creating new recipes for the cafe even as she gleefully shows off what she’s come up with. The awestruck aspect is what consumes the second half, with Peony almost in a daze as she’s brought through the preparation of being on the show. It’s little more than reacting, and normally that sort of passive nature would get old quickly.
Riess keeps it from being so, though, because the art is just so darn great. Peony manages to look dumbstruck in a way that’s inviting, from a perplexed look as she examines the alien utensils to bewilderment as she sees her fellow opponents. (The latter of whom look like they could have stepped out of an episode of “Adventure Time,” with inventive and odd forms.) The reactions of Peony and company are spot-on no matter what’s happening; it’s another reminder that a stripped down style does not always equal simple. Riess makes her characters show us their emotions rather than tell us, and that’s a good thing.
With the battle kicking off at the climax of the first issue, it looks as though “Space Battle Lunchtime” #2 will shift into high gear as Peony tries to figure out how to cook using alien foods and tools. While I wish we could have seen some of that play out in this first issue, there’s still enough going on here that I’m not too worried. Riess piles on the charm in “Space Battle Lunchtime” #1, and she’s sold me on her concept. Here’s to something delicious next month.