Following in the footsteps of the incomparable The Private Eye come Universe!, the second title from Brian K Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s ‘pay-what-you-want’ digital publisher Panel Syndicate. But will this Euro tinged sci-fi spectacular be out of this world or a cosmic catastrophe?
Albert Monteys’ Universe! #1 aka The Periodical of Cosmic Wonder, is a psychedelic science fiction tale which stretches from the far future to the dawn of time and back again. With each issue set to tell a different space inspired science fiction story, it’s a very different beast to the dysoptian noir of Panel Syndicate stable mate The Private Eye, but is every bit as compelling and enjoyable.
Our tale begins with astronaut Thomas Marriott swirling around in the whiteness of space at the very beginning of time, before jump starting the big bang in a technicolor psychedelic vortex and then leaping 17 billion years forward to the near future. There we are introduced to Tommy properly and we learn about why he is sent on this time travelling mission by diabolical business owner Alex Wortham. Wortham is looking to justify the immense financial and physical costs of his time travel experiments by literally writing his name into the very DNA of the world, but will his plan succeed and what effect will Tommy’s actions have on the space time continuum?
Montey’s tale reads like a cross between Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Oddyssey, with its epoch spanning narrative, and a chapter from Tales of the Unexpected or a pulp science fiction anthology from the 1940s, with its super smart ending and satirical edge. Because it’s a self contained story, it is short and punchy, and resolves brilliantly by the end and never suffers from an excess of exposition. Thanks to Monteys quirky European sensibilities, honed by years working on a Spanish satirical magazine, it is far from the trad sci-fi story you might expect. It has a superb surreal air to it, along with an anarchic cartoonish sensibility in the vain of Hunt Emerson or French Bande Dessinee comics and creates a brilliant hybrid of comic book and science fiction adventure.
The artwork is cartoonish but never childlike and zings with lush, vintage inspired colours and epic space-scapes – especially in the early universe pages at the start. Monteys revels in the Jetsons-esque future world he creates for Tommy and Wortham, and his invention of a unisex of a robot wife, is one of the best things we’ve read this year.
With so many books trying to recreate that pulp feel of the 40s and 50s and only succeeding in creating a generic copy, Monteys has managed to capture both the passion and humour of the pulps but also create his own unique take on the genre, making an absolutely compelling book that is packed full of humour and inventiveness.
Plus, just like the Private Eye, with Panel Syndicate’s ‘pay-what-you-want’ philosophy, you can never grumble about a lack of value for money with these titles. When it comes to Universe! no matter how much you pay you will be treated to an absolute gem of a comic which is worth every penny!