Orbiter by Warren Ellis & Colleen Doran
According to Ellis himself, he didn’t like science at school. Reading Orbiter suggests different; it makes you think he was the prize physics pupil, president of the after-school science club, what with all the amazing detail and understanding he brings to the workings and possibilities of the space shuttle. And Doran herself is no slouch, with the exactness of her technical renderings.
In Orbiter, the space shuttle Venture, lost for 10 years and the reason for the end of the space programme, returns to Earth somewhat unexpectedly. Three specialists – an astronaut/biologist, a propulsion expert, and a psychiatrist specialising in astronauts – are brought to the Kennedy Space Center, where it has crashed, to work out was happened. The astronaut and propulsion expert work on the ship, while the shrink tries talk to the pilot who has survived with the ship, showing no signs of space damage or even age. When all three come to almost unbelievable conclusions regarding what really happened, and the pilot begins to talk, things begin to happen …
This is a tight little mystery (it is a little reminiscent of the issue in Planetary with the Captain Marvel riff) that allows Ellis to explore the real idea behind the story: namely, that we should be back in space (which is something he spells out in the foreword). His passion for the subject is plainly evident, and he uses the investigation to explore the reasons why the characters are equally passionate.
In this, he is helped by Doran. Her ability to blend the technical and the human allows the story to connect – her ability to make eyes come alive in faces, with detail and precision, really allows a window into who the characters are. And the full page shots of the shuttle in action (interspersed throughout the book) reflect the glory and awe of such a majestic sight.
As stated, this is a tribute to and a plea for space travel, connecting to man’s desire to explore and do amazing things, just because they are there. This is my only problem with the tale, on a purely personal level (because it is a fantastic read and a thoroughly enjoyable graphic novel): it is a noble sentiment to want mankind to venture into space, but can it be really justified at such a huge expense when people are dying and the world always seems so close to doom? I don’t have the answers to such a predicament but it’s a testament to the power of the book that I am made to think about these things while enjoying a well-written and well-drawn story.