Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Black Star’

“Turns you from hunted into hunter, go and hunt somebody down”

Way back toward the beginning of the month (remember then?), I reviewed a comic published by Abrams ComicArts through their Megascope imprint. Good times! Now, here’s another one: Black Star, which is by Eric Anthony Glover (who writes it) and Arielle Jovellanos (who draws it). Let’s have a gander at it!

Black Star is a very simple idea, which is both a boon and a bit of a curse. A shuttle crash lands on an uninhabited planet, and the survivors need to get to a different shuttle (the lifeboat, basically), in order to get back home. Unfortunately, the reserve shuttle broke off when the main shuttle was struck by an asteroid, so it’s almost two hundred kilometers away. Across fairly hostile territory. Yeah, that sucks. What sucks more is that there are two survivors, Harper North and Samantha Parrish, and Parrish is trying to kill North. Their expedition was bringing back a cure for cancer, and the reserve shuttle only holds one, and Parrish was trapped in the main shuttle, which was burning, so North left her to save the specimens they need. Parrish, who’s fairly resourceful (she’s the soldier of the expedition, it seems), escapes, and she ain’t too happy with North. North has a head start, but Parrish is much better at living off the land. So the entire book is basically a chase across hostile territory. Fun stuff!

So the entire book is this cat-and-mouse game, punctuated by flashbacks to show us a bit about the dead crew members and why Parrish might be a bit angrier at North than just because she left her to die, but why North might have made the right decision and how much it actually cost her. North uses her brains to survive in the wild, as she’s definitely not as adept at it as Parrish is, but Parrish is no dummy, and she uses her brains to try to stymie North. It’s a physical battle, but it also becomes a psychological one, as the two women can occasionally communicate with each other. Glover cleverly makes neither of them completely right or wrong, so it’s hard to “root for” one or the other – we follow them and watch as they debate the morality of what North did and what Parrish is planning to do. Of course they reach the shuttle, and it’s there that this all comes to a head. Glover doesn’t really fool anyone with the ending, but he’s really not trying to, he’s just trying to tell a solid adventure story. Not everything has to have a twist! As North constantly says, the cure for cancer is the most important thing, and both she and Parrish need to figure out if that’s just words or if it’s more meaningful than that.

Jovellanos, like a lot of artists, isn’t quite fluid enough on the action scenes, but she makes up for it with good storytelling skills, so even if the figures are a bit stiff, it’s clear what they’re doing. She does a nice job creating this world, making it both beautiful and harsh, so it feels like a place that would defeat people lost in it but also lure them in with a promise of Edenic glory. She often shrinks the panels down, placing them against a relatively stark background, to isolate characters and make their emotional states feel more constrictive. It’s a clever trick, and it works well. She also does a nice job with the faces of the characters, especially North’s, as she runs a gamut of emotions as she’s remembering better days before the crash and trying to escape and survive with Parrish on her trail. I noticed her hair throughout, and in the end notes, Jovellanos mentions it, so I guess I’m not as dim as I think I am. I did not notice the way she colored their uniforms, but when you go back and look at it, it makes sense (if you can get past the fact that, to an old-timer like me, they’re vaguely reminiscent of what the crew of the Battleship Yamato wore on Star Blazers). Jovellanos does a very nice job with the design of the book, so even if you don’t love her style (and I do, but I know that some people are disinclined to like a slightly cartoonish style), it’s still an admirable book in the way Glover’s script is visually realized.

Black Star is an entertaining comic with some deeper things going on, and while it’s not a great book, it is pretty good. It’s just a nice adventure story told and drawn well. That’s not a bad thing to be!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆


  1. Bright-Raven

    I gave this a 4.5 of 5 a month ago on my podcast.

    The story is a very quick read – Very much art oriented, and the script is somewhat sparse. Glover does an exceptional job at keeping the text limited, or perhaps because the comic was adapted from a screenplay he wrote, he just doesn’t overwrite the script to begin with. That’s a blessing given the way so many of today’s “hot” writers just spew verbiage on the page. Glover lets his artist tell the story and then compliments the art with his script, the way it’s SUPPOSED to be done.

    As Greg says, the two women are multi-dimensional in their abilities and personality, and there’s cause to empathize with each of them fairly equitably, so you’re not necessarily ‘rooting’ for one over the other. Regardless of how “predictable” the plot or conceptual may seem, it’s just a really well executed work.

    Artist Arielle Jovellanos has a very strong “camera eye”. Her style isn’t ‘slick’ and she probably won’t ever be the “flavor of the moment” artist, but she has very strong storytelling skills that surpass many of those popular “slick” artists. Her storytelling constantly improves as the story progresses, as well. If her storytelling skill continues to grow, I really can’t see how the so called “mainstream” is going to be able to ignore her talents for too much longer.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Louis: You like it a bit more than I do, but I don’t disagree with your conclusions. I think Jovellanos has a good chance to get more noticed, mainly because it seems like there’s a growing niche of “mainstream” comics – from DC and Marvel, I mean – that employ artists that work in her style, and that style seems to be popular with younger readers, so maybe that will work. She certainly deserves it!

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