Space Western On A Nightmare Planet: Cemetery Beach TP
by Brendan M. Allen
A professional pathfinder breaks out of a torture cell in pursuit of his worst extraction scenario ever: escaping on foot across a sprawling and secret off-world colony established a hundred years ago and filled with generations of lunatics. His only ally? A disaffected young murderess. From Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, the creators of the critically acclaimed Trees.
Stop me if you’ve heard this. Cemetery Beach TP opens in a dingy windowless room, a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, naked subject restrained to his chair. It’s pretty clear someone’s about to get tortured for some secrets. Except, no, maybe not this time. Warren Ellis has us looking left, then takes a hard right and everything goes completely sideways. Those first few pages kick of an intense, deadly chase that doesn’t let up until the very last few pages.
The interaction between characters is smart, laced with dark humour. Most of the exposition comes from monologues that read like a dialogue, which plays better than giant half-page blocks of text, and gets the job done. Most of the nuggets you’ll glean about the history of each of the concentric circles of this madhouse come from Grace. She does her level best to bring the bewildered Mike up to speed about the twisted dystopian caste system and the edible goo that seeps up from the ground, as they dodge bullets and worse.
Characters are complete, and beautifully weird. Grace, President Barrow, Chief of the Boat… These are seriously damaged people, but all of their eccentricities work in the context of a largely unexplained shared horror. There’s also a really interesting dynamic between our protagonists, but with the breakneck pace, it’s hard to separate what’s organic, and what falls into more “pain as social glue.”
While the script is fantastic, much of the storytelling falls squarely on Jason Howard’s shoulders. There’s a brilliant six page action sequence that takes place with not a single word of dialogue or narration slowing it down. The setting is gritty, industrial with a steampunky vibe. Some of the action scenes look like they’re straight out of a Russian spy film, running roughshod through a gulag, except all spacey, with flying cars and junk.
There are also quite a few slick visual gags. You know how religious icons tend to take on characteristics from the societies that adopt them? Like when Jesus crossed over into Europe and shed a few hundred levels of melanin? Well, Space Jesus sports a helmeted EMU.
Cemetery Beach TP is an easy, engaging read with some fantastic world building. There are elements of 007, mashed up with some Doctor Who, Star Wars, and The Village, all taking place in colonial space Russia. Steampunky tech, explosions, and mutants. Espionage and conspiracies. Good times.
Cemetery Beach TP, collects Cemetery Beach #1-7, Image Comics, released 05 June 2019. Written by Warren Ellis, art/design by Jason Howard, letters/design by Fonografiks.
Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.