The day before his 25th birthday, which has been prophesied to also be the day he dies, Argosy Smith convinced his friend Theremin, a “Pulp” or “Human Transmorph,” to help him steal The Codex, written by Leonardo da Vinci himself, from Macroshaft. Argosy had a deal that should've seen The Codex in his hands as payment for a job well done, but Macroshaft double-crossed him and now Argosy wants payback. The Neghtaer want The Codex as well. They are aliens who abducted Leonardo (and other intelligent beings) and forced him to work on solving The Dimensional Constant, which da Vinci recorded in The Codex and promptly stole and returned with it to Earth just as a great Shift changed the laws of the universe making it impossible for them to retrieve da Vinci or The Codex. In the 21st century, another Shift changed everything again, making it possible to travel beyond Earth. Which brings me back to Argosy Smith who, with a reluctant Theremin in tow, has just stolen The Codex and now has multiple alien races, and a mega corporation called Macroshaft, hunting him.
Astounding Space Thrills: Argosy Smith and the Codex Reckoning begins with an explanation: "A few short years into the 21st century, the laws governing the universe change - time flows at a different angle, space folds against the grain and positive particles aren't so sure." This lays out what can only be described as a wild ride. Aliens. Space monkeys. Robots. Little Green Mercenaries who love to kill humans. A man with three brains (didn't Steve Martin make a movie like that?). Rayguns. Adventure. Astounding Space thrills has it all, plus more.
Written by Eisner Nominated and Eagle Award–winning cartoonist Steve Conley, and published by IDW, Astounding Space Thrills compiles the adventures of Argosy Smith and friends, including the original independent comics, web comics, and more. I found this in a local comic shop and I'm really glad I did. It harkens back to classic sci-fi: At times the story feels over-the-top, but it’s always reeled back in for a nice payoff. Argosy Smith is your quintessential sci-fi adventurer. Knowing when he will die has given him a sense of freedom most people would kill for. He has lived his life the way he wanted and has zero regrets. When confronted about the prophesy regarding his death at the age of 15, he said, "If it's wrong, well...I'll have one helluva vacation the day after I turn 25!"
Theremin is sort of a sidekick for Argosy. I say “sort of” because Theremin wants an adventure, but he has to be convinced to go. He has plenty of chances to walk away, but he doesn't. Petra Vaverchek is a pilot for hire who initially is helping to hunt Argosy, but he eventually joins the crew. Rounding out our main cast of characters are Redmond, the man with three brains who is intent on capturing—or killing— Argosy and regaining The Codex; Gracken Kurr, a bounty hunter searching for The Codex; and Mr Mooch, a one-eyed, blob-alien thief.
There is nothing here not to love. Seriously. It's just a wild, fun read. Like a lot of independent comics, including the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle books, Astounding Space Thrills is printed in black and white (for all but one story—more on that in a second), which lends itself well to this type of story. Once you get to the online comic pages encompassing “The Entropian Engine” story, we do get to see Argosy and crew in full color. The book also includes a cover art gallery in full color. And speaking of those covers, they are fantastic pieces by the likes of Steranko, Greg & Tim Hildebrandt, Kelly Freas, Dave Gibbons, Frank Cho, Ken Kelly and Dave Dorman. They have that classic sci-fi feel to them, which fits the tone of the book like a glove.
A great, original sci-fi epic, Astounding Space Thrills: Argosy Smith and the Codex Reckoning is a wonderful addition to anyone's collection.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host and editor (2013) who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.