When I was a kid I’d always play with my toys in an orderly fashion. I got my pre-teen kicks by lining Hot Wheels up to make a traffic jam in the living room. Or staging complicated battles between army men and Transformers and giant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My brother and sister were different. They’d smash toys together and weave complex, surreal narratives out of Disney princesses and dinosaurs and the family dog. On calm days, we’d all be in the living room, playing with our sprawling toy utopias in contradictory fashion, me on one half, listening to the dialogue on the other end of our invisible carpet border, laughing to myself at the nonsense they’d come up with but admiring the sheer thrill of it. I liked listening in better. I didn’t want to interfere. I had organized systems to construct anyway.
Alexis Ziritt and Fabian Rangel Jr.’s Black Mask Studios release Space Riders has me flashing back to that adolescent domestic adventuring, sitting here trying to construct critical order out of a gloriously messy debut, terrifying screaming skull ships shattering the placidity of space in order to help baboons in astronaut suits and one-eyed capitans conquer reptilian Viking bikers (“vikers”) while a monotone robot lady calls out for better organization, a better plan. The loose plot of Space Riders situates the reader in the headspace of Capitan Peligro, a no-nonsense grizzled Space Rider who has been rescued by another EISF ship (what does EISF stand for? doesn’t matter) after a glorious battle with the Norrax Armada that cost Peligro his ship, his eye and his rank. We know this because he is summing up the narrative for that smart robot lady as she interprets the data and does her job by suspending him for a year. And like any capitan in fiction, Peligro doesn’t take it so well, going all Fear Agent out in some bullshit planet in a bullshit galaxy, drinking away the failure with whiskey he can no longer afford, fighting anyone who calls him on his misery.
There’s been a glut of these kinds of gruff spacefarer stories lately, ranging from the aforementioned Fear Agent to the more cerebral Wonton Soup and even the Ales Kot-Marco Rudy run of Winter Soldier. Even so, Space Riders stands out because it’s too imaginative to be constrained by a narrative, cliche or otherwise. Ziritt tackles the story like a kid bored in algebra, devising amazingly creative designs, like that screaming skull space ship (perfectly named the Santa Muerte) and all these animals in space suits. The universe of Space Riders is rough and deadly and rusty but fuck if it isn’t dazzling and daring, soaking in day-glo rock poster colors rather than the blues and blacks and whites of standard space. The art isn’t influenced by Tony Moore or James Stokoe, it just comes from that same kid notion of space colliding with that same adult grumpiness, an intense need to reignite the imagination fuel that made you create new backstories for your action figures as a child while recognizing that the galaxy is full of chaos and danger and that isn’t always coming from spiky Vikers and ferocious Norrax Armadas.
The end result is a comic that doesn’t make any fucking sense when you try to apply order to it but nonetheless looks awesome in the truest sense, blowing minds with each panels, demanding you keep your eyes pasted to the page in an effort to consume every detail, no matter how minor or skull-shatteringly large. I have no idea about the creative process for Space Riders but I like to imagine it was constructed in a fashion not too dissimilar from my brother and sister’s play sessions, with Fabian Rangel Jr. talking out a loose narrative with some action figure stand-ins, then passing it off to Ziritt to make it come to life. The presence of a possible villain named Hammerhead with a literal hammer for a head and a closing caption of “Hold on to yer butts!” only further convince me of this notion of the creative process.
A lot of the other space stories en vogue today lean on space operatics, so don’t take this lack of cohesive plotting as a dis. I wouldn’t call Rangel’s writing childish, per se, I simply mean that Rangel is skilled at channeling a childlike wonder at the potential of creativity. It’s writing without bounds, with a focus on world building and frenzied glee instead of some overly convoluted mythology or an intellectual distancing from how thrilling space still is in concept alone. We don’t know what the fuck is out there so why restrain yourself to space ships that look like penises and “aliens” that are just humans with different skin colors when you could have skulls floating through the galactic ether and a religious baboon looking thing hanging out with a robot and an asshole with one eye? Space Riders is fun comics in a jugular vein, it’s an explosion of creative energy that makes no qualms about its disinterest in that realism Neil deGrasse Tyson and his internet BFFs want from space tales. Fuck science. Fuck drama. Hold on to yer butts.
Space Riders #1 comes out this Wednesday, April 1st, through Black Mask Studios.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover