Space-Mullet! vol. 1 TPB – Daniel Warren Johnson

4 out of 5

The curse of talent: Daniel Warren Johnson has shot up through the ranks from webcomic to Image series and now to DC, with a Wonder Woman book, which would seem to leave that webcomic – Space-Mullet! – in something of a limbo.  Reading the first four chapters, collected by Dark Horse in trade, emphasizes how frustrating that is – accepting, of course, that wider exposure for Mr. Johnson is fantastic, and it’s certainly opened the door to witness more of his ideas – as S-M! is one of those true rarities of a book, web or in print, that manages to take a mess of genres (space / war / crime), spin ’em all together, and emerge with not only a well-told and -paced story, but also a growing cast of memorable and interesting characters.  The strip is so fully formed right from its outset that it puts to shame many larger scale projects, while also showing Johnson’s own improvements in composition and narrative throughout.

Jay is a space trucker.  He has a long, thin mustache, as well as the titular mullet.  With him is alien buddy Al, cook and muscle, forming our odd couple, bickering over toilet paper usage.  Drawn in a loose, but detailed, black and white with blue offset, the exclaimationed title of the strip and its jokey beginnings suggests a certain type of humorous-hijinks story, which isn’t untrue, but is also a small fraction of things to come.

A garbled message from Jay’s old war buddy has him contemplating some hinted-at misfortune that occurred way back when at a colony called Eve; they need someone under the radar – Jay and Al – to quiet some evidence that’s cropped up of that day, and to travel to a casino on Dargon to do it.  The murky past is an interestingly serious offset, but this sets up our presumed hijinx, and issue one makes good on various starts and stops of a heist, but things just start to pile on pretty soon thereafter, exposing Space-Mullet!’s world of racist aliens, racist humans, classist social structures, Rollerball-type derby exhibitions, a super-powered kid alien, space goblins, violent bookies, and more…

Johnson keeps a smile on at key points, but Jay and Al become fully fleshed out characters within a growing universe of heavy concepts, allowing room for the strip to bring in an impressive amount of subplots and cast in a short amount of time and have it all feel relevant, and “real” within the story’s context.  And Johnson’s art becomes sharper and sharper throughout, his initially shaky line finding focus for some massive spacestation vistas and intense (and bloody) action sequences.

Some plot gambles are a little too much for only four issues, somewhat fridging a character who was established well on their own, but not necessarily in relation to our leads, and the aforementioned super-powered kid alien is a completely weird inclusion that doesn’t seem to get enough of a WTF reaction as it should.  But: these criticisms come alongside a story that otherwise lives and breathes with such fantastic rhythm that you have faith that, as story beats, they’ll work within the whole… making it, again, frustrating that it’s been a few years now without updates.

I know, I know, congrats on Wonder Woman, Mr. Johnson.  It’s awesome.  But here’s hoping that Space-Mullet! someday gets to have a conclusion, or at least enough material for Dark Horse to publish a volume 2.