John Carpenter is a man of many trades. In addition to being a film director, writer, and composer, though some may not know it, he’s also involved in the world of comics. Published by Storm King Comics, John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction aims to be an anthology, with each limited series telling a contained story over a handful of issues.
The first three-issue story is Vault, in which a mining vessel comes across a derelict alien ship in space. Scrawled on the hull of the alien ship is the word “Vault,” along with a passage from an Emily Dickinson poem. These aren’t your average aliens, it seems. On board, our protagonists find the crew slaughtered, their corpses sprouting a radioactive fungus, and it seems that what did the killing may not have left the ship.
The basic “board a derelict ship” plot will be obvious to anyone who’s familiar with Alien, Event Horizon, Dead Space, or any number of other movies, video games, and books in the genre. Similarly, the characters unfortunately fall into overused sci-fi tropes: the tough but underestimated female captain, the military man attached to the mission whom no one trusts, the wise-cracking tech guy, and so on. Another issue is that the cast of seven is introduced and then quickly stuffed into identical spacesuits, making them difficult to tell apart on the page, especially in wide panels featuring several characters. As a result, I frequently found myself flipping back to the page where everyone is introduced in order to sort out who was who.
The artwork by Andres Esparza and color work by Sergio Martinez are incredible and would make any science-fiction artist envious. The ships and equipment all have a great, gritty, industrial sci-fi feel, and the gore and corpses are very reminiscent of the body horror of John Carpenter’s film The Thing. The artists obviously did their homework to match the mood and style of Carpenter’s filmography. Exactly how much say Carpenter himself has in the comics isn’t quite clear. His name doesn’t appear in the credits other than a “created by” line, though his wife, Sandy King (a film and comic-book industry veteran herself), serves as the series’ editor and cocreator.
Overall, Vault is good, but not great. Despite attempts to add some flair of its own, as I touched on before, I can’t help but feel like I’ve read this story before, though it does feature a classic John Carpenter–style ending that fans of the director will appreciate. Opting to follow an anthology structure made up of finite runs is something I think more comics should try—it can be intimidating to jump into a long-ongoing series, even at at the beginning of a new story arc. With a setup like this series, you can start with a new story and new characters without needing any prior knowledge or feeling the need to read back issues to get a grasp on the series.
The first issue of the series’ next story, Vortex, hit comic shops on October 25. It will be an eight-issue arc, which will hopefully allow for a more in-depth story with a fleshed-out cast and will be a great point to jump in if you’re looking to start with this series.