There’s a fair amount of competition from long established and beloved franchises when it comes to space opera, so Outer Darkness has its work cut out from the start. It’s pleasing therefore that what’s first noticed is Afu Chan’s work ensuring the trappings aren’t too familiar. There’s an appealing retro design to the first spacecraft seen, and the crew wear gear not too far removed from our own. The biggest difference, though is space populated by ghostly monstrosities, by our understanding supernatural rather than alien.

John Layman establishes the two primary cast members in a creative scene that may see lives saved, but it’s at the cost of a mutiny charge, and as it’s the second Joshua Rigg has faced, the chances of acquittal aren’t good. Suppose, though, he takes charge of a ship headed deep into the Outer Darkness on a retrieval mission that no-one is likely to volunteer for? The Charon is no conventional ship, and Rigg is no conventional commander, so a match made in heaven then. Layman introduces several other concepts to differentiate this series from the norm, not the least being that none of the influential humans seen is the standard white alpha male, with several cultures represented. An open-minded attitude to religion and superstition is another item on the agenda.

With the crew and mission identified, Layman and Chan settle in for the long haul. The mission can wait as the galaxy is explored. The intriguing ideas keep coming, and so do the strong and not necessarily well-meaning people making up the crew. We learn early that Rigg’s people skills hover somewhere near the zero mark, but that’s not the only reason for the volume title, as there’s constant conniving between members of the crew, gradually revealed mysteries about them, and many have their own agenda. These fulfil the merger of horror and SF, although it’s not as apparent as it otherwise would be due to Chan delivering the plot as cartoon art, rather than realism.

Beyond Rigg’s abrasive character there’s absolutely no sense of certainty to Outer Darkness, and as Layman obviously has the creative chops to ensure that remains the case, this is a tasty appetiser with more to look forward to Catastrophony of Hate.