This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
I can’t tell you when it started, and I can’t really tell you why. But I’m absolutely gaga for space operas and space westerns—anything featuring unlikely heroes set beyond this earthly plane.
I didn’t read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy (SFF) growing up; I wasn’t weaned on Ender’s Game or Dune. And–Swapna, cover your eyes–I didn’t get into Star Wars until very recently. (Blame it on watching the movies too young to understand the plot.) Even when I’ve read SFF as an adult, I’ve tended more toward fantasy than sci-fi.
But there’s something about comics set in space that just thrills me. The swashbuckling adventure juxtaposed against the extreme loneliness; the grit of a western set alongside the technological advances of space travel. Flawed heroes looking for a place to lay their heads in the whole wide galaxy, and those who live in lands betrayed by Manifest Destiny fighting back to protect what has long been theirs. Plus, all the detailed cosmological art. Be still my heart!
I use “space opera” and “space western” pretty much interchangeably, because like I said, I <3 SPACE. Both subgenres feature swashbuckling adventures set in the final frontier. Space operas tend to feature warfare and romance more often, while space westerns basically give cowboys ray guns and examine themes of colonization, boundaries, and the law. But the two often overlap.
And it’s not just space as we typically think of it, with stars and galaxies and planets. I also love otherworldly settings heavily imbued with equal parts mythology and adventure. That’s what I love about this genre—the endless possibility. There is so much out there that we can’t grasp—but we can try.
Without any further mooning over my genre kryptonite, I share with you my favorite intergalactic comics… for when you just need a little space.
Southern Cross by Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger, Lee Loughridge, and Serge LaPointe
Alex Braith boards the Southern Cross tanker to Titan in order to collect her sister’s remains on that faraway mining planet and maybe find some answers. But the mystery only gets more complicated once the spaceship takes flight. What did happen to her sister—and to other passengers on the Southern Cross? What exactly has Alex gotten herself into this time? The art of Southern Cross is stunning, and the plot promises plenty of twists and turns—as well as an exploration of secrets, space, horror, and human nature.
Copperhead by Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, Thomas Maurer, and others
Copperhead is a gritty mining town, out there in the middle of nowhere on a middle-of-nowhere planet, Jasper. Clara Bronson is the new sheriff in town, and right from the beginning she finds herself in a whirlwind of trouble—facing desperate outlaws and determined exes. Copperhead is fast-paced and fun, and I particularly appreciate that it tackles themes of colonization and the differences in how certain species are treated. I also love that Clara’s a single mom—and that her past may not be what it seems.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples, Fonografiks, and Eric Stephenson
Look, I don’t need to tell you about Saga. I’m pretty sure the whole world knows about it. But what kind of list featuring space operas could exclude Saga? It’s got it all—Romeo-and-Juliet romance, endless warfare, complex villains, empathetic heroes, and really useful parenting tips… There’s a reason it’s so popular!
Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, Sigrid Ellis, and Clayton Cowles
“Death’s daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father.” Yes. YES. Pretty Deadly infuses magical realism and mythology seamlessly into the Western genre. It’s not actually set in space, as far as I know, but it’s certainly otherworldly. I don’t always understand what’s going on, but it only makes me more intrigued. Plus, I hear the next arc of the Pretty Deadly series is set in World War II–so, that’s completely different and also amazing.
East of West by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin Jr., and Rus Wooton
Okay, now I’m just getting crazy with the theme here. Again, this comic is not set in space per se. But it could be! It definitely feels like another planet—kind of a mix between Pretty Deadly and Preacher. (Is “supernatural western” a thing, too?) The four horsemen of the apocalypse roam the Earth, and humanity’s one hope for life lies in Death. The end times were never so thrilling—or philosophical.
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, Clayton Cowles, and others
All right, let’s get back to actual space. Or fiction set in actual space, at some point in the not-so-distant future. Bitch Planet—also from my space-sister Kelly Sue DeConnick—is kind of like The Handmaid’s Tale meets Blaxploitation/women-in-prison-exploitation film, but, you know, on another planet. And there’s a Superbowl-like death match thrown in there, too. There is such a fantastic mix of genres in this series, I’m sure there are western/operatic elements as well. Basically, it is everything.
ODY-C by Matt Fraction, Christian Ward, Chris Eliopoulos, Dee Cunniffe, and others
Matt Fraction, the other half of space-loving House DeFraction, teams up with eye-popping artist Christian Ward to re-tell the classic Odyssey… in space. That’s basically it! If you love epic adventures, retellings of classics, psychedelic art, mythology, and oh yeah SPACE TRAVEL, then this is probably a book you should check out.
Serenity by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad, Michelle Madsen, Michael Heisler, and others
Fellow Firefly fanatics! Did you know there’s an official Serenity comic? This is definitely for my hardcore Whedonists out there; it’s a bit light on background, plot, etc., and it sort of reads like Firefly fanfic. But I am THERE for that. In between watching the too-great-for-its-time but no less marvelous show/movie, you’ve got the comic to keep you company. And actually I quite like the art.
Groot by Jeff Loveness, Brian Kesinger, Jeff Eckleberry, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire, Francesco Francavilla, and others
GROOOOOOOT. Also Rocket. (He’s so underappreciated!) Groot, a spinoff from Guardians of the Galaxy, is actually a pretty fantastic space western. The Comixology description actually sums it up nicely:
For the first time ever, the most famous talking-tree-thing in the Marvel Universe stars in his own series! Life is good for Rocket and Groot, your two favorite Guardians of the Galaxy. They’re having a heck of a time on a well-deserved celestial road trip — until Rocket gets raccoon-napped! Taking a leaf out of his feisty, furry friend’s book, Groot will have to uproot, branch out alone and em-bark on a cosmic odyssey. He’ll face an adventure filled with aliens, sharks, explosions and the Silver Surfer. Far out! Along the way, a world needs saving, and a ship full of mercenaries is cruising for a bruising. Is he the right tree for the job? Well, he is Groot!
My fellow Panelteer Jenn has also shared her favorite comics in SPAAACE. Have we missed any great titles?