Tales of the S.S. Junky Star
By the Fillbach Brothers
First Comics; $6.99
Matthew and Shawn Fillbach have been making various kinds of science fiction comics for a while, from alien invasions (an oversimplified description that doesn’t do justice to the craziness of Maxwell Strangewell) to werewolves fighting vampires on the moon. They’re best known though for Dark Horse’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures series, so it’s fitting that their follow-up to that is another rousing, pulpy space opera. One advantage that Tales of the S.S. Junky Star has over Star Wars though is that this is clearly the Fillbach’s baby and their love for it is unmistakable and infectious.
As you want in a space pulp adventure, Junky Star centers on a less-than-perfect spaceship with a wildly diverse crew. The title vehicle is a salvage vessel operated by a grizzled, old human named Tug and an even grizzlier space bear by the name of Boomer. They’re joined by Roz (a blue-skinned cowgirl with a witch-like hat) and Drax (a spotted mechanic who reminds me of one of the ThunderCats). Their troubles begin when they discover a derelict spaceship containing the last member of an oppressed species and a bunch of masked warriors called the Korgra-Qain that would look at home working for Emperor Zurg from Toy Story.
The Fillbach Brothers’ influences are wide-ranging and always fun, but they succeed at including all this stuff without feeling like they just tossed in a little of everything. Nothing is included just because it’s cool. The brothers may not be telling an overly serious story, but they take the story seriously and make sure that all of its elements are there for a reason.
The crew bickers, but I was never left wondering why they continue working together. Tug is a surly captain, but he’s also tough in a fight and a believable leader. It’s clear that the crew trusts each other, even when they can’t always be certain that they’ll agree with the others’ choices and actions. It’s that kind of intricacy that elevates Junky Star above just being a book for kids. When Tug learns that the alien they’ve rescued (and nicknamed Cricket) has a use that would bring in a lot of money, his instinct is to use Cricket the same way other people have used his species, even though it’s horrible and has driven Cricket’s race almost to extinction. It’s a moral decision that readers will want to see Tug wrestle with, and Tug’s crew isn’t 100% encouraging for him to do the right thing.
As further evidence of Junky Star’s complexity, the Korgra-Qain work on a couple of levels, too. They start out as antagonists in the classic sense: adversaries who also want to exploit Cricket and so must get him away from the main characters. I didn’t want Tug and his crew to abuse Cricket, but I certainly didn’t want the Korgra-Qain to have him either. Plus, since this is an all-ages book and Tug’s a likeable old coot, there’s never really any doubt about his final decision. I rooted for Tug to hold onto Cricket long enough for Tug to figure out the honorable thing to do. Once he does, the Korgra-Qain become true villains, but with an extra layer thanks to the knowledge that not too long ago our hero was trying to achieve the same thing they are. The Korgra-Qain aren’t sympathetic, but neither are they just evil aliens because the story requires evil aliens.
The tension over the Junky Star crew’s doing the right thing kept me invested in the story and should do the same for younger readers. And it won’t hurt that the whole experience feels a lot like watching Star Wars or an excellent space adventure cartoon. The Fillbach Brothers have created an awesome world to play in and exactly the right characters to guide readers through it.
My only complaint is that it’s almost impossible to find a copy of the book online. It’s published by the re-launched First Comics, whose books are notoriously difficult to get a hold of. They’re not available in brick-and-mortar stores or even from any online retailer that I’ve been able to find. The best bet seems to be tracking down the company at a convention (First’s website is made up entirely of their convention schedule) and buying a copy there. It’s a pain, but for those able to do it, Tales of the S.S. Junky Star is worth the effort.