"Cluster #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by BOOM! Studios
Written by Ed Brisson
Illustrated by Damian Couceiro
2014, 32 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on February 4th, 2015
It's a sure thing that once we get to space we're going to find stuff to shoot, right? That's just where we're going as a society. Ed Brisson and Damian Couceiro imagine a version of that future where we've run out of soldiers and have recruited prisoners to fight space wars in Cluster. Inmates are offered a choice of serving a life sentence or a fifteen year stint at Global Outreach Enterprise's Military Inmate Deployment (M.I.D.) protecting human interests in the stars. This seems like a decent plan on paper, but there's corruption afoot. Petty crimes are met with long term jail sentences to keep the war effort strong, but at what cost?
The issue opens with a brutal realization of a scene where a politician's daughter, Samara, is taken into custody after a car crash. She pleads with the authorities to save the other person in the car as she watches it burst into flames. They care more about making the arrest than saving the life of another human being. This paints a pretty grim picture of the world of Cluster, but it sets the tone for what to expect from the series. This is far from a country club prison experience. These are inmates that are seen as expendable. They're cannon fodder in this mega-corporation's war against alien races. If a few die, there are more where they came from.
Brisson lays out a pretty great origin story of sorts. He explains the rules of his bizarre status quo quickly and efficiently. Although there are big parts of exposition-heavy dialogue, it never feels like narration. It's presented as Samara's orientation and comes across seamlessly. After getting the lay of the land, Brisson throws the characters into a blender and flips the switch, getting them right to the action and a pretty rough situation.
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There are some basic prison tropes in Cluster. Couceiro brings these to life with a flourish of science fiction. Some of these characters look like they were taken out of HBO's Oz, but then you get a glimpse of Slarreg, a hulking beast with razor sharp teeth that barely manages to fit into a prison uniform. There are other nice touches like the writing on the walls in solitary, appearing in English as well as a number of strange alien languages.
One character that stands out is Halleran. He's a "model inmate" and tasked with running the orientation for the new prisoners. There's a look in his eyes like he's seen this all before. All of the fight has been beaten out of him and he's ready and willing to tow the company line. If that means prepping these new recruits for the slaughter, so be it.
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There's a sense of desperation that comes through in Cluster with Couceiro's artwork. These people are really alone out here. They were in cryo sleep for two years just to get to this place and now they're basically stranded out in space, defending a dustball of a planet against an alien race for some unknown reason. When you get a glimpse of the outside world, it's vast and barren. It goes on for miles, but there's no civilization out there. This really hammers home that feeling of hopelessness that the characters must face.
The end of this issue finds some of the prisoners in a no-win position that creates an immediate sense of excitement for the reader. How are they possibly going to get out of this mess alive? This rag tag group has to work together if they hope to survive against all of the odds that are stacked against them. I have no idea where it'll go next, but I can't wait to see what Brisson and Couceiro have in store with this series. Cluster is a perfect example of space prison sci-fi done right.