Starside has continued to define itself in character and story since setting off in a fun, if at first seemingly typical, coming-of-age sci-fi tale. The rush that the series needed upon kickoff to world build and give us a general story direction has successfully allowed for greater focus, and issue #5 is now even able to step out to other worlds on Jack’s quest to get back home without it seeming like a clutter of alien cliches, or an unnecessary escalation. It’s a really well done balance: writers Dylan Klein and Lane Brettschneider (and artist Jordan Chao, bringing their words to live) pair the chatty Riggs with the somber Jack, and use the inevitable Q & A that passes between the two – Riggs trying to determine what makes Jack special, and likely also why, indirectly, the former feels compelled to help the latter – to fill-in the dialogue sparring that might be going on in the reader’s head, which subsequently further fleshes out the duo’s personalities…
Landing on Hakko-Baaz, this macro / micro storytelling juggling is also on display, with the big technology witnessed upon de-shipping contrasted against the undercity to which they travel, the dynamic the two have settled in to (Riggs in charge, Jack in need of help) challenged by what occurs there.
This is still fitting within certain story telling cliches, but the patience with which Klein and Brettschneider are now allowing it to roll out is really enriching things, and giving Chao visual room to make the story beats land. Tales being cliche isn’t a direct problem if the story is told well, and, as we’re seeing – and hopefully continue to – that slowburn confidence is also what can make it not cliche, with details and tone presented that slowly and surely differentiate things.
Only a couple spots here felt like they could’ve hit harder: Chao’s loose linework is excellent at expressing emotion and motion, and the lack of excessive detailing generally works well in the sci-fi setting to give us ideas of what’s what without overwhelming with minutiae – kind of leveraging our inherent “knowledge” of spaceships and alien worlds as consumed through media. However, the initial splash page of Hakko-Baaz is in need of such detailing, and a little more solidity of line. It’s a two-pager, and it unfortunately doesn’t create the pause it necessitates because of the streamlined style. (This aside, some praise for Chao’s coloring: the purple / pink hues are a favorite among certain types of books, but they often botch it, using such flair for world bubbles and characters / settings without any sense of motivation; rather just because it looks a certain way. Chao’s – presumably doing the coloring – colors are integral to the feel of the story, and the dialogue, and the characters. The look of Starside is tied to this purple / pink palette, and I wouldn’t ask for it any other way.)
Secondly, while I’m praising the spread out pacing, with such time between issues, each individual book at this point needs to hit with a bit of a punch, and though Klein and Brettschneider set up a really great scenario for the ending, the exact hooks they land on in the last few panels isn’t quite consequential enough. It’s not a Gasp – similar to that splash page – but rather just something that happens. If the next issue were available next week, not a big deal, and maybe if it wasn’t delivered with the framing suggesting it was supposed to be a noteworthy moment, but neither of those things are true, so it kind of fell flat.
These are really minor notes, though. An otherwise excellent issue.