I’ll put this simply: Falling Star by Cristian Roux is the best new comic in town. The Melbourne artist’s second issue is scheduled for release this week, creating a perfect moment to introduce you to his world. It’s a world of stark contrast, of fallen gods and shifting power. It’s a world in upheaval. It’s a world quite like ours.
Issue one details the aftermath of a presumed gang war between meta-humans known as ‘Alters’. On the ground, the newly empowered government Agency for Alterhuman Research & Response (A.A.R.R) tries to marshal the affected citizens, while in the skies wildly unstable and possibly unnatural weather conditions shake the city. The story and characters are linked by an ongoing series of news reports, giving a broader context as the individual tales are told.
Issue two offers more action, some social repercussions to the unfolding events, and a new character or two. This chapter has the title ‘For Want Of A Hero’, and it’s plain to see why. There are no easy answers here, noble deeds are few and all go unrewarded.
It might seem as though this description of the story is deliberately vague. Well, in a sense, that’s true. But these appear to be the opening refrains of a complex and far-reaching chronicle. The questions ‘What’s going on?’ and ‘Who are these people?’ must have occurred to readers at the start of every great serial, from A Tale Of Two Cities to Watchmen. The very fact that we ask them shows the level of engagement with the narrative in such a short time.
In just two issues of Falling Star Roux has created a rich world. The physical setting is clearly based on his home town, Melbourne. It’s a little more futuristic, and somewhat crumbling at the edges, but it’s solid and real. Readers familiar with Melbourne will feel that thrill of recognition, spotting stand-ins for Bourke Street Mall, Victoria Street, and the State Library. The city is also peopled in a realistic way. The cast of both major and minor characters are ethnically and socio-economically diverse. Issue two especially portrays this mix in a masterful way; the climax of three plots occurring simultaneously, with the experiences of three very different groups colouring the larger narrative.
The idea of meta-humans is not so new, but so far Falling Star doesn’t show any indication of being a superhero comic. It inhabits the realm of dystopian science-fiction; readers can see more of Bradbury and Orwell here than of capes and cowls. But it’s possible that the comics also tap into something X-Men has been exploring for decades- mutants/meta-humans as a lens through which stories of minorities are viewed. In Falling Star, are the Alters an aspect of the immigrant experience? It would be apt in this country and at this time. The Alters are outsiders in a land already settled by outsiders. They are ‘other’ in a city already rich in cultural diversity. It will be interesting to see if this theme is expanded, or what aspects of humanity future issues address.
Falling Star is a black and white comic, and it’s clear that Roux is an emerging master at work, using every tool at his disposal. It’s such a pleasure to see his art, and the level of detail is breathtaking. Final artwork appears to be created digitally, but it holds on to its analogue sensibilities with pride. Each page is bespeckled with magnificent renderings and highly considered imperfections. The use of digital screentones is sublime and complex, bordering on the baroque. This is an artist who appreciates everything black and white can offer.
The level of complexity in the artwork is also reflected in the text. This might be the only critique of the work, in that some pages require multiple readings to understand the multiple narrative threads at play. As mentioned previously, the ongoing news reports provide insight into the world outside the characters’ lives. Are the reports background noise to the events, or are they meant to be absorbed concurrently? Either way, this complexity is part of the reader’s experience.
Comics have a strange alchemy. The creator must have a multitude of skills ready at a moment’s notice. Writer. Artist. Graphic designer. Architect. Fashion designer. Prop master. Poet. Editor. Printer. If any one of these elements is neglected, the story falters. But when they come together, the result is pure gold. It might only take you twenty minutes to read an issue of Falling Star, but months of work and a lifetime of dedication to the craft have put it in your hands.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Falling Star issue two (along with a reprinted issue one) is on sale from the 19th of July, and will be available at selected comics retailers around Australia. For more information, visit Cristian Roux and follow his Sauce on Facebook and tumblr.