Review - Black Stars Above #1 (@thevaultcomics)

"I am lost."

One can only imagine how some phenomenon was explained by people living in the past. For instance, frontier life in the late 19th century brought with it plenty of hardships, but few were as potentially terrifying as the events unfolding in Black Stars Above #1 from Vault Comics. The issue is written by Lonnie Nadler, illustrated by Jenna Cha, colored by Brad Simpson and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

A young fur trapper flees her overbearing family only to get lost in a dreamlike winter wilderness that harbours a cosmic threat. The year is 1887 and a storm brews. Eulalie Dubois has spent her entire life tending to her family's trapline, isolated from the world. A chance at freedom comes in the form of a parcel that needs delivering to a nameless town north of the wilderness. Little does Eulalie know, something sinister hides in those woods and it yearns for what she carries.

Nadler establishes a rich world from the outset, effectively transporting the reader to another era rife with hardship and forced decisions. For instance, Nadler's not content to just show the reader that Eulalie is the daughter of a fur trapper in 1887; rather, he effectively uses the first issue exploring a day in her life as a means of establishing the larger narrative. A good chunk of the dialogue is told through Eulalie's journal writings and there's a sense of humanity to it in that Nadler even includes some of her crossed out words for great effect. The subtle simplicity of following along with Eulalie's day to get a sense of the routine is very powerful when juxtaposed with the reveal at the end, bringing a certain sense of terror to the proceedings. The easy comparison is to say Nadler evokes a Lovecraft vibe, but there seems to be a bit more at play than just that.

Cha's artwork does a marvelous job of establishing the environs for the story where frequent snow-covered landscapes serve as a chilling backdrop for the events to unfold. Desolation and cold typically play very well together, prompting Cha to create a world that's covered in snow and dreariness in a way that's extremely effective at maintaining a more haunting atmosphere. There's also some great work towards the end of the book where Cha envelops Eulalie in darkness, providing a rather startling transition to from a story about a day in the life of a trapper to something more sinister on the horizon. The encroaching blackness also serves as a nice callback to the beginning of the issue where an animal is shown with inky black eyes, tying things up nicely as influenced by the black stars above. Simpson digs deep for the aforementioned blacks to great effect, while rendering the remainder of the issue in earthy tones befitting of a trapper camp in the late 19th century.

Black Stars Above #1 is a very strong first issue chock full of expository and world-building. Eulalie is desperate for a new course in life, but she quickly discovers that there are some things in the world that aren't exactly of this world. Nadler's script is sound with an emphasis on intelligent characterizations of individuals who come together to create a world that feels lived in. Cha's illustrations are eerie in many ways, giving the reader that there's something horrible just under the surface waiting to make an appearance. Black Stars Above #1 sets out what it aims for in the first issue by giving readers a glimpse at an upcoming terror while at the same time maintaining an effective level of tension.

Black Stars Above #1 is available now.