In Review: Faster Than Light #4

The characters are the real, the visuals strong, and the UAR incredibly fun.

The cover: The captain of the Discovery is face to face with one of the Nulian Collective. The insect visage of the alien is obviously causing the human some distress, but if he — and the human race — want to find allies in space, they’re going to have to overcome their fears. Great illustration of two different species meeting up close and personal from illustrator Brian Haberlin and colorist Geirrod Van Dyke. The reflection of the alien in Captain Forest’s helmet is outstanding. I’ve been buying this series because I enjoy space exploration and I want some interesting aliens in those adventures; this cover gives me exactly what I want. Overall grade: A

The Ultimate Augmented Reality: This comic, as did the previous three issues, comes with pages that can be looked at with a tablet or phone using this free downloadable app. By opening the app a reader can point at certain pages to have three dimensional objects/characters appear, complete with encyclopedia entries. This issue has five items to look at and learn about: 1, the cover: the Nulians; 2, Page 5, the Nulian shuttle; Page 11, the history of the US space program; Page 15, Inglets; and the back cover, which contains three logs. This is undeniably impressive. The first four have complete three dimensional animated looks at said items (if you move your phone or tablet around the image displayed, it can be seen from every possible angle — while it moves!), and the logs on the back cover have animated screens with the characters speaking. The first comic I saw with any type of augmentation was Nathaniel Osollo’s independently published The Shadow People last year, but this is a huge step up in technology. It completely fits with the science fiction theme of the book and I wish other sci-fi books used it. David Pentz is credited with the “Programming” of this book, with Diana Sanson and Sam Todhunter credited with assists. This is amazing! Overall grade: A+

The story: After the previous three issues of the crew trying to avoid destruction by the Tentacles, they’re looking for allies. This leads them to encounter the Nulian Collective on Zeneta. Meeting with three representatives of this culture face to face, across a table, doesn’t go well, as the oversized insects consider it impolite to speak to them first. All that occurs is a silent staring contest. Ryan tries to keep his “monkey brain” from running the show, but he’s afraid of the seven foot insects. However, “On the other hand they do smell nice…sort of honey-like.” The Nulians leave after some time, sending a message that they require time to decide if the humans “qualify as friends.” Brian Haberlin then has this chapter revisit something the crew has picked up on an earlier outing, though it continues to puzzle them. Their solitary voyage is then broken by the arrival of another ship, and faster than you can say “Star Trek” someone new meets them. I liked the acknowledgement that Star Trek survives into the future and how the characters referenced it, but you’d think they’d learned something about aliens from that classic show. I was very interested in the new aliens, as this is one of the reasons I’m purchasing this series, and I can’t wait to see how the crew reacts to the cliffhanger of this issue. Overall grade: A-

The art: Not only does Brian Haberline write this series, he illustrates it. I want to visit alien worlds and see beings, vehicles, and cities I’ve not seen before and Haberline delivers them. The opening page, Page 3, shows the Discovery arriving at Zeneta. It’s a great image of the ship passing, I believe, a moon to get to their destination. Pages 4 and 5 is a double-paged spread of the Nulian’s civilization. The buildings are great looking; futuristic, but not in a 1950s way. What I’m not thrilled with in this image, and the previous page, is the dropping in of photographs. Doing so undercuts the reality that the illustration of the city is creating; I’m looking at a poor green screen effect from a low budget movie, essentially. Thankfully, after these three pages I’m not seeing Haberline do it again, or I’m simply not catching it. On Pages 6 and 7 the Nulian appear and they are a sensational creation. Calling them “bugs” don’t do them justice and I really hope that Haberline has them return soon. I also like the nine panel layout of 6 where Forest goes through several emotions considering the Nulians. The other alien race that appears also looks good, as do their little companions. However, after reading this book, I don’t think I could ever look the same at an alien race that has a perpetual smile plastered on their faces. Haberline also really moves his point of view around well, mirroring what one would expect from a film, such as in what’s seen on Page 24, including one of the crew’s reactions. Pages 21 and 25 have only one panel of text, with the rest dependent on Haberline the artist able to clearly tell Haberline the writer’s story. The artist does a really good job on these pages. I’m liking what I’m seeing, but I’m hoping that in future installments photos are not used. Overall grade: B+

The colors: Dan Kemp keeps this book looking dark, as one would expect of any book set in space. The only bright colors issue from the crew’s uniforms and the aliens they encounter. This is not to say that the book is dim, it isn’t, rather it has a perfect utilitarian tone to the colors that make this story believable. Even in their brief appearance, the Nulians have terrific colors; an eerie green tinge with red eyes. The Inglets also are brightly colored, though they are a rosy orange, making them appear like flame in every panel. Kemp’s best job, though, is coloring the flesh of the human characters. His ability to create highlights on individuals based on the light sources in the panels is top notch, and must have been maddening to do so well. His labors are greatly appreciated. Overall grade: A 

The letters: The book’s “The story thus far…” and summary, dialogue and narration (same font), scene settings, and the closing “To be continued…” come courtesy of Francis Takenaga. I’m really liking the lettering on the opening page’s summary, but I really want to see different fonts for different alien species, rather than a change in the shape of their dialogue balloons, and a different font for the dialogue and the narration. Overall grade: C+

The final line: A fun sci-fi book that utilizes a real technological application! The characters are the real, the visuals strong, and the UAR incredibly fun. I’m looking forward to seeing where Haberline takes these characters. Overall grade: A- 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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