Void Indigo (#1 – 2) – Steve Gerber

2 out of 5

Note: I’ve yet to read the scripts for the unpublished VI issues. I will, and I assume I’ll review them as well, as part of this series. I don’t know why I’ve held off for so long, but regardless, it seems fitting to review these issues on their own, since that’s the only way we had them for quite some time.

That note above said, there are still two ways to read these two issues of Void Indigo: as standalones – how I first read them – or as a continuation of the preceding Marvel Graphic Novel. Now, it seems logical that it should be the latter, except I feel like Steve took the opportunity to tweak some things between that book and this mini-series, even though these issues absolutely definitely refer to things in that book… So it’s problematic. Overall, VI isn’t, er, a great read either way, but I think it’s actually made worse by combining it with the MGN – which I really liked! – because it turns the minimal WTF effect of the two issues into a more negative version of that same exclamation.

Void Indigo is the tale of reincarnated warrior Ath’agaar – now in the body of crashed-to-Earth alien Jaghur – hunting down his also reincarnated enemies, The Dark Lords. Fine. I follow.

Void Indigo is also a story in which Steve Gerber wants to comment on the social ignorances of the 80s populace, represented – in case subtlety isn’t your bag – by a quote on the inside of issue #2’s cover, from “From America the Trivial,” and I’ll let that title stoke your imagination. This isn’t especially well-seeded into these two issues, except it did seem to encourage Steve to maintain a very brusque nature to his writing and scenarios, so, okay, pretty sledgehammered, but fine, I’m down with adding some relevance to your fantasy comic book.

Void Indigo is also a story about the moldable, comingling nature of good and evil. …Supposedly. This I’m admittedly taking more from Steve’s after-the-fact explanation of VI’s themes, and I can guess this will be stronger once I’ve read the subsequent scripts, but while I don’t think that concept has been brought to the foreground very much in these issues, it is surely in the graphic novel, and there are ideas here that would / could play into that well. I’ll allow it.

Void Indigo is also a story about some kind of cult that’s going to fight against the Dark Lords, and Jaghur finding another alien babe on Earth with whom he’s going to mate, and Ath’agaar’s maybe kinda hunt for his long, lost, love, Ren, who’s not mentioned at all in issue #2 and who was just kinda a wrong-place-wrong-time side piece in the graphic novel, and a young girl who’s maybe a dream walker, and her spiritual-realmed tattooed aunt, and the cop who’s trying to track down the source of the recent deaths at Jaghur’s hands – the pink-skinned alien they explain away as just some kinda mutated junkie, no prob – and maybe, maybe there’s going to be some gender commentary tossed in also. Plus: fat shaming.

If that doesn’t help to clarify it, the main problem with Void Indigo – the issues – is that it cannot fucking settle on what the story is, and how it’s going to tell it. Every few pages Steve introduces some new aspect, and while that’s not necessarily unusual for the writer’s style, it’s not of the same random vibe as in some of his other series, rather coming off as a redirection. It’s like, as soon as you get a grasp on what’s going on at a high level, here comes another story piece that somewhat conflicts that, or doesn’t add to it in an especially interesting way. In that latter case, Steve will drop hints how it’s connected to other events, though, which then circles back around to making things feel conflicting.

As a followup to the GN, this stuff makes even less sense, as that book – to my reading of it – set up the Ath’agaar / Dark Lords shtick as the former “releasing” the latter from an unwanted state of rebirth. Like, the Dark Lords were put on this cycle of eternal living and dying as a punishment, and Ath’agaar (and Ren…) forcefully followed them because they wanted to make sure they kept getting punished. This seems somewhat confirmed by Koth – the reincarnated Lord who explains this stuff to Jaghur – welcomes his death in the graphic novel. But when we get to the issues, that’s been transformed into a much-easier-to-understand hero vs. villain setup – the Dark Lords want to remain alive, dammit, and Jaghur’s going to have to splash-page battle ’em to change that. To be fair, this hiccup is somewhat in the GN as well, but Steve’s lyrical writing and Val Mayerik’s gorgeous, page-spanning artwork in that book overwhelm its issues, making it a gripping read. Here, it feels like Steve’s trying to squish and smash his concept into something more palatable for an issue-by-issue read. …And I’ll get to Mayerik in a moment.

Also changed from the book to here is how Ath views Ren, and how Jaghur’s Earth-buddy Linette is represented. In the GN, Ren is also a bit of a hiccup, but you can view Ath’s desire to revenge her as exactly that – she was tortured, horribly, simply by dint of wanting to get a rise out of Ath; otherwise, the scene in which we’re introduced to her suggests (to me) that she’s kind of just a casual sex partner for the barbarian. But in Void Indigo – issue 1, anyway – she’s treated more like some ultimate love, and further reason for Ath to want to kill the Dark Lords. Like, take away her agency and double down on fridging her as a princess, okay. And Linette: also a sex-positive, free-wheeling lady in the GN, and that’s used as a kind of humorous way to justify why she shrugs off giving a ride to the pink-skinned alien who’s shown up in her trailer park. In the issues: she’s a put upon, emotional ditz; all that free-wheeling is gone, and Steve uses her solely as a way to introduce another character – the dream-walking Raka.

Linette is also “friends” with Delfine, an overweight woman living in the same apartment building. I think this may have been Steve wanting to create a representation of 80s indulgence and escapism, since Delfine is always stuffing her face and recommends Linette to a psychic (who ends up being Raka), but boy oh boy it just comes across as a riff on trailer trash and aren’t fat people dumb.

And crumbs is Mayerik’s representation of her hard to look at – she’s not human looking. In general, Mayerik’s art on these books is not so great. Part of that is the varying tone – when pages are more cinematic and dark (such as the opening, which I’ll also get to in a moment), it works, but the conversational beats are very, very stiff, and “acting” doesn’t appear to have been the artist’s forte. The same is true for when we need to get to panel-ized action – it doesn’t translate well. Compare this to the two-page spreads and unique paneling he effected in the GN; it suggests the artist was maybe better suited – at least to this book – to a larger canvas and narration that wasn’t of a traditional comic format.

So, one more thing, because its confused me ever since reading these issues: the opening. Void Indigo was famously (within the comic spheres) denounced by a critic as being a crime against humanity, and we can suppose the first sequence has something to do with that – a prostitute is gorily murdered, and then her john is subsequently murdered as well, and both turn out to be (maybe?) transvestites, or perhaps trans men or trans women. Firstly, this sequence makes no fucking sense in the context of the story – Jaghur claims he kills one of them as a “sign” to the Dark Lords, but search me why he couldn’t put his little post-it note with the words Void Indigo (the in-book name for the spiritual plane) on a billboard somewhere (points to Linette for asking that same question, at least) – and it’s further confused by whatever Steve was trying to do with the gender reveals, here. Now, I know I’m commenting on this several decades on, when our pronoun use is 1% more evolved than it was then, in 1984, and I also know I’m not the smartest boychik on two short legs, but I cannot, for the life of me, understand the intentions here.

Mayerik draws the john as – I think – presenting as male, and so it’s a “reveal” when she (a character later revealed as her girlfriend uses female pronouns to refer to her) has her shirt slashed, exposing breasts. The prostitute – presenting as female – makes a joke using the word “dicker,” which seems to suggest, from the story’s perspective, that this woman is trans. Later, she’s referred to as a transvestite, and a crossdresser. So maybe, possibly, this character – who, let me also point out, is not named in this opening scene, which makes it doubly confusing as fuck when we’re later talking about someone named Brita, and Steve doesn’t properly connect that name to this character – is a trans woman who also crossdresses, but I have to say that that seems really unlikely for an 80s comic, and so instead I’m guessing Steve was conflating a lot of these concepts, and then just using Brita as an “idea” more than a statement on anything. Because the prostitute loses her wig at some point and is then called Larry.

As bad as I think all of this sounds, it doesn’t exactly “other” these characters; however, I think it’s just shallowly implemented to support the “things aren’t exactly as they seem on the surface” riff that ties into – vaguely – the commentary on 80s vacuousness and the lack of clear lines between black and white. But, whoof, if that’s what this is, then maybe calling it a crime against humanity is overkill, but’s it’s also a really poor, in-your-face, “gritty” way to go about things, not to mention its lame, attempted connection to the story as mentioned above.

But man, I really don’t know. I’ve never been able to figure out what this scene’s place is in things. Note the subtitle of this issue is “Killing To Be Clever,” so… yeah. Maybe fuck off.

So, uh, given I’ve done nothing but bash on this book, nearly top to bottom, how does it merit two stars?

Well, because it’s not poorly written, scene by scene. Each sequence works very well, and some of those sequences have the same, thrilling sense of buildup as the GN. When Mayerik’s art is allowed to be more grounded, it’s gorgeous. And if you are reading this without the lead-in from the GN to confuse things, as mentioned above, it’s WTF nature is a bit more kind – Steve’s writing has a confidence that makes you hope and believe it can connect, though I don’t think he was doing himself any favors in how he jumped around between characters and concepts. So it’s a promising book, and surely different from anything else you’ll have read, even though it’s also not a very good comic book in the sense of being written as a digestible monthly (bi-monthly, actually!) experience.

Maybe once I read the scripts for the followup issues, it’ll all fall into place, but I’m skeptical.