Written by Cullen Bunn. Art by Andy MacDonald. Coloured by Nick Filardi. Lettered by Crank!. Published by Oni Press.
Outer space is terrifying.
Think about it. It’s expansive and full of so many things that we don’t know or understand. In the comic Rogue Planet, the crew of a salvage ship learn this the hard way. Hoping to hit paydirt after following a distress signal on a planet that has been lodged out of its orbit, things go terribly wrong as soon as they land.
This five-issue miniseries blends genres – combining science fiction, traditional horror, and body horror. Although, the comic leans more into the horror elements. Here, science fiction is the vehicle for horror, acting as a setup for the scenery and premise.
The first panel of the comic, which features a grotesque monolith, firmly establishes that it’s a horror. It’s all fleshy, with artist Andy MacDonald covering with bulging eyes and protruding teeth. It then introduces other entities into the mix, with similar unsightly features. This form of body horror is used sparingly, which means that they are impactful when they appear.
Good horror uses the genre to explore themes, with fear being a by-product of that exploration. Rogue Planet uses this opportunity to explore the concept of fear. Is it an actual thing? Or is it a combination of external factors and the mind? A lot of this is built into the premise and plays out through the experiences of the characters. It also comes out through their interactions, with the characters discussing what they most fear. It’s a little heavy-handed but does have some pay-off when those fears are worked into the narrative.
The idea of a crew answering a distress signal on a remote planet only to have shit hit the fan is not a new idea. It’s a staple of science fiction horror and the premise of many Star Trek episodes. Where Rogue Planet differs is that it subverts expectations. When you think things are going in a predictable direction, a page turn will throw an unexpected surprise at you. The result is that it diverts you from the usual trappings of the trope into different territory.
Visually, Rogue Planet finds a happy medium between the different genres. There’s the brightness of science fiction, with the glowing green atmosphere and the illumination of various light sources, while finding a darker compromise of horror with solid black shadows and muted colours for the desolate environments. These work well together as they are used to reflect the unknown of the planet and its terrifying threats.
Where it doesn’t quite work is in the character designs. Most characters are either in a spacesuit or some kind of uniform, making them all look alike. (Colourist Nick Filardi colour codes the helmet visors, making it easy to follow each character’s movements.) It’s hard to be attached to anyone in particular because of this. But at the same time, the lack of any standout character makes who will die next unpredictable.
Overall, Rogue Planet is a solid mash that explores the concept of fear. Through the use of unpredictable moments and body horror, the comic proves once again that out space is a terrifying place to be.