In this science fiction graphic novel, a space shuttle disappeared 10 years ago, so the US shut down the program. Now, the shuttle has returned with only one of its seven crew and some creepy modifications.

The two-page foreword by Warren Ellis is the best part of the book. In it, he describes his personal reactions to various milestones of the space program from the perspective of a non-American, as well as his feelings to the then-recent news of the Shuttle loss. It’s more touching and more human than anything I’ve read by him in a long time.

Unfortunately, the comic following doesn’t live up to it. I was intrigued by the premise, but I found myself flipping through page after page of technobabble. I’m sure, with Ellis’ research, that it’s all plausible or even the modern cutting edge, but it made for boring reading that missed out on the people involved. We’re told of the deep fears and loves and emotions of the characters, but we don’t see them.

All that jargon also didn’t serve its purpose, that of making the case for why humans need to continue venturing into space. The mystery promised by the book is, technically, answered, but the bigger questions aren’t as compellingly presented as I’d have wished. The surprisingly rah-rah ending didn’t sell me; it’s the type of presentation that only persuades those who were already in agreement.

The army captain in charge of the investigation, the standard foul-mouthed attitude-laden Ellis stereotype, was particularly grating in the story context. Colleen Doran, meanwhile, has done an excellent job on the shuttle and space technology, but the facial close-ups seem over-rendered. The head shots made the characters look Botoxed, all frozen features and too-thick skin. (This might be due to the coloring by Dave Stewart; it’s hard to tell.)

Orbiter could have been an extra-long issue of Global Frequency, which also features thin plots surrounding Ellis’ writing about his latest technological interest. I’d love to read a collection of essays on futurism by him, where he wouldn’t need to fictionalize things.

Both Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran have websites.

5 Responses to “Orbiter”

  1. Vincent Murphy Says:

    I’m glas someone feels the same way I do on this. It felt like “Wow, Ellis read a space shuttle book and is trying to impress me with his knowledge.” There’s just too much silliness.

  2. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Um, what? This is actually my favorite Warren Ellis AND Colleen Doran book ever! I read this thing twenty times, and even bought a print of the art.

    I really loved the book. But I understand your opinion.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Ray, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I know it has a lot of dedicated fans. It didn’t work for me, even though I expected it to, and this review was my attempt to explain why. Thanks for sharing a different viewpoint.

  4. Dwight Williams Says:

    I don’t think it’s a matter of “showing off the Knowledge” so much as trying to share the Passion you found — as I did — in the foreword. It worked for me, but maybe I was an easier sell on this stuff.

  5. Michael Rawdon Says:

    I didn’t really see what was so hot about this, either. It seemed light a straight-up science fiction yarn with no real innovations or surprises, and neither the characters nor the story grabbed me.

    This was also the book that made me realize that sometime in the last ten years Colleen Doran’s artwork has taken some turn so that I don’t really enjoy it anymore. It’s hard to put my finger on what changed, but the clean linework and elegant layouts of yesteryear seem to have gone AWOL somehow.




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