Diverging a bit from my usual fare, I wanted to take a look today at a book that feels very much like an epic space opera in the vein of something written by Iain M. Banks, Dan Simmons or C.J. Cherryh. Sam Humphries (Marvel's Ultimates) has created a fascinating original comic/graphic novel in Higher Earth.
Space is dead. That's the tagline. No aliens. No distant worlds to explore or invading alien armadas to battle. Just the Earth. The twist? The multiverse exists. Why bother going out into space when you can simply cross universes, take the people and resources you need, and build an empire on the bones of those worlds, a Higher Earth, if you will?
Heidi lives on a trash planet. Bright circles in the sky open up and dump trash everywhere. People fight over the scraps dumped on them. Heidi lives alone and fights hard to keep what little she has. Rex is a soldier. He travels from Earth to Earth. Is he running from something or to it? When he finds Heidi, everything changes for them both. Rex convinces Heidi that she needs to come with him, and drags her first to a Sunshine Earth full of refugees, then to an Earth that never had an extinction level event and is full of dinosaurs. Everywhere they go, they are pursued and attacked by the agents of Higher Earth. When Rex is badly wounded, Heidi learns the truth about who she is and why she was living on that trash planet, and has to make a choice to either trust Rex and embrace her destiny, or run for her life. Forever.
Meanwhile, on Higher Earth, another Rex serves as Councilor to the Queen, and commands an army of his counterparts from across the multiverse. This Rex is out to stop the other, and keep Heidi from fulfilling her destiny.
Higher Earth collects issues 1-5 of the comic book and, I have to say, it feels epic in scale and ambition. You so rarely see books like these on the comic shelves these days where super-powered beings are the norm, and I applaud Boom Studios for the effort. The mutiverse concept isn't new, but the idea that “space is dead” and the only world worth visiting is Earth itself—that one is at least new to me. The scope of the story, with the very different worlds and versions of the characters, feels like something you'd read in a novel from ACE or Baen rather than a comic. Sam Humphries delivers a strong sci-fi epic that captures you quickly and pulls you along from world to world with a rich backstory and tons of intrigue.
The art is done by Francesco Biagini, Manuel Bracchi and Joe Eisma. Each world is very different from the last, but the style is consistent even when one artist takes over for another. The trash world feels dense, the Sunshine Earth bright and filled with people, and Higher Earth is pristine and well-manicured. Also, I like that the characters are not drawn or portrayed (for the most part) in the usual “Marvel style” of over muscled giants so prevalent in today's comics. Even the alternate Rex's do not look like cookie-cutter clones but rather have their own distinct looks and body types.
Higher Earth feels like the tip of the iceberg, a beginning to something so much larger and deeper and I am really looking forward to where the story takes me in future installments. I hope you'll come along for the ride.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host 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 Hugo Award. He writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.