The quickest route in talking about space shuttles is mentioning Columbia, Challenger, Apollo or any of Soyuz mishaps. Disaster is as entrancing as it is tragic. With anything so big and mythic, it's infinitely more fascinating to dwell on how it can go wrong, laying simple regard to the countless successes, the reality of something still seemingly impossible.
What Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran do in ORBITER is trace tragedy back to that first bit of amazement, to the love story of mankind and space. ORBITER loves space. ORBITER has a gigantic swelling heart for every human cog of the shuttle launch.
Simultaneously an obituary and a love letter, equal parts Quincy and The Right Stuff, ORBITER is a forensic study of a missing shuttle as it touches down in the shantytown remains of the Kennedy Space Center sometime in the future. Three teams of specialists - grounded by the absence of manned space flights - converge, bent on figuring out why it is covered in skin, what happened to the missing crew, how it could land on Mars and where it's been for the last 10 years.
It's science heavy enough that enthusiasts will break out in gooseflesh, compelling enough for the dullards amongst us to nod along, and all of it tucked in a high tech detective story, horror story, sci-fi story. And every inch is illustrated in dumbstruck-rendering art, totally soaked in color. Doran is capable of quiet conversation every bit as dynamic as a shuttle careening into a field of people; creased brows as telling as the dials and needles themselves.
Looking at the sky a few months ago over Texas and watching the debris of a decades' worth of dreams come tumbling down has made it hard to be optimistic about the future of man in space. ORBITER follows that cynicism to its bitter dystopia and then wipes the map clean with the smooth lines and effortless grace of a shuttle coasting home, leaving behind an optimism and wonder that's not easy to refuse.
Christopher Sebela lives, works and sleeps in Kansas City, MO. When not laying out newspaper pages or writing quasi-subversive headlines for a tiny upstart company within a huge publishing syndicate, he pimps his muse as a freelance writer or labors in vain crudely editing reams of footage. He has no idea why he has a website, but he does: thoughtpeach.com.