Writer: Vesper Aeon
Artist: Anna Foubert
Independently published, 2022
We were recently contacted to review this science fiction comic, Black Mariah, and we were glad to do so. The story begins in a faraway space station called Storm Forge, described as the research and development headquarters of an arms manufacturer called Qualix Corporation. Qualix was saved from poor financial performance by its chief executive officer, named Janus Evanovich. Evanovich does not like receiving “no” as an answer to practical problems. She notes early in this issue, “I like people to think that I am the reason for Qualix coming back from the dead. My reputation as the saviour of this company is one I worked hard to cultivate”. That honest self-assessment hides an ego – Evanovich has ambitions to become minister of defence of humanity’s government – and an inability to listen.
Black Mariah at times at times reminds us of the Alien franchise, in that there are no obvious altruists to be seen. The crew of a “registered mercenary ship” called the Shrike has been engaged to attack the space station. In an extended scene, the leader offers the mercenary team the opportunity to bow out of the mission if any of them have a problem with killing civilians. The mercenaries chat amongst themselves. They rationalise the idea of collateral damage in their mission because the personnel on Storm Forge are weapons manufacturers. There is not a lot of reservation about the incidental deaths of non-combatants aboard the space station. No one in the story is an obvious good guy.
Some of the lines are amusing. Speaking of improving the viability of a missile, an engineer named Jordan suggests, “we could paint them flourescent colors and imbue them with the power of positivity. See how that goes.” On the trench-coater name “Storm Forge”, there is some self-deprecating humour from writer Vesper Aeon (we assume a pseudonym) mouthed by the characters: “… the orbital platform they call Storm Forge. And no, I am not making that up.” “I love that name,” replies a hardened mercenary.
There are some intriguing aspects to the world-building of Black Mariah. Humanity has spread to the stars, and with that the United Nations has been replaced by the ‘Federation intergalactique de Promotion Humaine’. One of the planets in the federation is called Nouvelle Lyonnaise. It seems that galactic expansion is French-led – a point of difference to the usual assumption of an Anglophone science fiction future. Alternatively, up until around 1910, French was the international language of diplomacy and communications (it is why passports still feature French translations). Perhaps this etiquette is resumed in the universe of Black Mariah.
There is scattered unnecessary exposition, especially on one page where we see an extended description the fighting skills and training of a female mercenary called Duluth. It would have been enough to simply depict her as beating up Qualix’s personnel. It is also not at all clear how the mercenary team managed to escape the destruction of Storm Forge. The needle seems to have skipped over the vinyl at this point. But overall, the mission – the planting of a large bomb on Storm Forge – is completely and very well-executed within 20 or so pages.
The art, by Anna Foubert, is very reminiscent of the artwork of Brian Hurtt (perhaps because Mr Hurtt was the artist of espionage series Queen and Country back in the early 2000s, a comic title even more gritty than Black Mariah). That comparison is a very sincere compliment to Ms Foubert. The opening scene in particular, with Storm Forge half-cast in shadow as it orbits its planet, is very striking. Because the comic is in black and white, the abundance of black ink in some of the panels is very stark. This (perhaps accidentally) assists in conveying that the bleak light of space casts very black shadows.
This issue is very entertaining for anyone who might like the niche category of science fiction heists. The issue is available on Amazon: https://a.co/d/fU92mtv