Black Star begins with a close up on the eyes of our heroine, gradually zooming out from her peacefully sleeping form as an inferno closes in from the edges of the page. A catastrophic asteroid hit to her space shuttle jars Dr. North out of stasis and into survival mode, fleeing the burning wreck. Once on solid ground she dons a visorcam that plugs her into Guardian, a tech intelligence that connects her to the ship’s systems, can monitor her physical condition, and guides her through the wild terrain of Eleos, the planet she’s crashed into. It says a lot about her frame of mind that the first thing she does is ask Guardian for the location of the auxiliary shuttle and directions to it, not realizing for several pages that her hands are bleeding, something Guardian has to alert her to. Guardian encourages her with all the mocking, annoying charm of the old paperclip popup from Microsoft Word (to offer an extremely dated reference), suggesting she pick up her pace when we’ve glimpsed the origins of the horror and exhaustion churning inside her. Eleos is created for the reader by expressive landscape shots of the ever changing environment and ominous warnings from Guardian about flooding, forest fires, and more.
Just after Dr. North experiences the first of the many dangerous climate features, she discovers that there was another survivor, Parrish, and that she too is heading for the auxiliary shuttle. She’s also burning with rage and grief, blaming Dr. North for not rescuing the rest of the crew. And the auxiliary shuttle only has space for one. The bulk of the book shows us their battle, with everything Eleos can throw at them, using their wits and tech to take shots from a distance, and in ferocious close-up brawls.
This is a taut, streamlined debut graphic novel, written by Eric A. Glover with art by Arielle Jovellanos. Adapted from a film screenplay, it makes full use of imagery to tell its story, with sparse dialog. In choosing a plot limited to two characters at the mercy of the elements, it’s tempting to rely on flashbacks to flesh out the story, but Glover makes sparing use of them. Each of the main characters uses the Guardian to access the ship’s video system and watch recent events, for myriad reasons ranging from confusion and longing to deception. The decision to have the characters control the flashbacks, an act of intention rather than external narrative, concentrates the story even further on the two women. There is no narrator or perspective apart from theirs. We do learn a little backstory about the scientific and personal motivations of the astronauts in the flashbacks, but mostly the book is about a cutthroat struggle for survival. It’s notable to have a science fiction action story that has an entirely female cast, with our two main characters shown as women of color. There’s also a lesbian angle to the plot. It’s a great entry in the slowly growing body of inclusive science fiction comics. Glover’s bio on the publisher’s webpage for the book cites his dedication to telling the stories of underrepresented groups, evident in Black Star‘s pages.
Arielle Jovellanos makes fantastic use of the panel structure to steer the mood of the story. Beats where Dr. North can catch her breath a little and makes plodding progress in tidy panels become fractured shards of off-kilter panels when floods, fire, and other calamities disrupt her journey. The art style is emotive, more on the cartoon side than realistic, while still aptly conveying the weight of the grim story. The eyes of the characters in particular bear a lot of the storytelling duties and she excels at bringing them to life. The palette often dips into the cold futuristic blue and digital readout red of sci fi, with floating pixels and grids denoting technological visuals.
This is a dynamic and engaging graphic novel, an excellent addition to any collection for adults or teens. There is a lot of fighting and blood and the often wordless nature of the storytelling makes it a little harder to follow than the average graphic novel, so advanced readers will enjoy it more. As a movie, it would probably be PG-13; the violence isn’t anything tv and movies haven’t prepared teens for, and there is no sex or nudity. It’s hard to come up with read-alikes that would help narrow down the perfect audience. If you like stories of survival, space exploration, and strong women, grab this right away. Black Star shows that on a planet full of deadly natural elements, it’s human nature that remains the most brutal.
By Eric Glover
Art by Arielle Jovellanos
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Black, Queer
Character Representation: Black