Space. The final frontier.
While a good portion of comic books take place right here on planet Earth, the popularity of the sci-fi genre and the space-faring hero can't be denied. From heroes like Green Lantern and Nova to concepts like The Fourth World, setting a book in an alien setting gives it limitless possibilities.
However, this balance is tricky: it's easy to throw too much of a good thing at readers and send your book spiraling down into mediocrity, or worse, the bargain bin. Here's some things I've found that make a great space book, and examples of how they've been pulled off.
Space is big. Really big.
No, I mean it. Like, really big.
So why limit yourself to the solar system? Or a planet? Why limit yourself to the rules of Martian fiction when you could create your own planet that looks just like Mars, only it's yours, from the ground up?== TEASER ==
It's important for writers of space books to consider how much room they have to play with: there is literally no end to the amount of new things to explore, conquer, inhabit or discover. Use it. Play with it. Don't have your heroes stay in one place unless the story demands it.
Planet Hulk did a great job of showing scale, even though it didn't leave one planet: Sakaar was full of vast plains, lava pits, cities, villages, hives and had you traveling to each of them. It might have been easy for the writers to keep you situated in one locale for awhile, but what's the fun in that?
The ultimate point in science fiction is to show people a setting that they wouldn't see otherwise, and space books need to achieve that as a basic requirement for being. Allowing writers to be creative allows for remarkable results, like Jack Kirby's Fourth World.
A Sense of Wonder
That creativity also needs to make sure that what it's doing justifies the trip into space. When organizations decide to throw a man into orbit, it's not for kicks: it's for a specific purpose.
Having a hero journey into space should be to have an adventure or fulfill a purpose he couldn't do while he was still on Earth. It should be framed in a way that avoids the descriptor "X, but in space." This tends to cheapen something that, as we've discussed earlier in this article, is limitless in its potential for creativity.
A part of what makes science-fiction series like Star Trek great is that they instill in us a sense of wonder: a curiosity to the unfamiliar. It makes us think "Wow, there's so much out there," and not "Man, this 'Kroy Wen' looks a lot like a certain city I know back home." This sense is important, because it allows us to be open to a setting where the weird and downright impossible might happen at any one moment. We as readers need to be prepared for planets that can talk, a place where there is no "up", and seeing stars that live and die in a heartbeat.
If we have that sense of wonder, we can suspend our disbelief to the point where these things become plausible, as to us, they are. We believe that "hey, there's nothing saying a talking planet couldn't happen, so who am I to complain?" As a writer, this makes your job a lot easier, as you have a lot more freedom to create, instead of worrying about whether your readers will accept it.
Identification, Even In The Depths of Space
While I mention that things shouldn't exactly be predictable, they shouldn't be totally alien, either; a good way to keep your readers scratching their heads is giving them a setting they can't relate to, even in a small context.
The ability to relate is important in all fiction - not just comics. It allows us to insert ourselves into the story and enjoy the piece as an experience, not just a bunch of text in front of us. By having a hero, place or concept that's similar to something we might experience in our every day life, no matter how small, it allows the reader to use it as a grounding point for the weirdness they may encounter.
In Annihilation, even as the Kree Empire dissolves around him, Richard Rider still manages to live in modest quarters that reminds us of Earth. He pursues relations with Gamora (who kind of fails the "sense of wonder" test by just being a big green woman) and deals with the harsh realities of war. These concepts aren't cheapened by just being "X, only in space!"; instead, they're there as minor reminders to the normalcy of what we experience here on Earth.
This isn't to say that Rider could have submerged himself in a bio-mechanical sleep pod that submerges him in goo every night - in fact, that doesn't really make a difference at all. Hell, he could weightless every night, as long as he just sleeps. It shows us that even in space, people are still people with real needs.
And ultimately, that's what good comics are: stories about actual people that we can identify with and enjoy reading about. They fit in the settings that they inhabit and they're the product of a vast creative process that is both logical and deep. They take advantage of what they're given, and use it to make something amazing.
So, until next week: see you, Space Cowboy.