Sci-Fi January 2018
Exactly the type of original sci-fi premise that I treasure finding
Written – Jan Strnad
Artist – Dennis Fujitak
Colorist – Ken Smith
Editor – Gary Groth
What do you look for when it comes to science fiction? The genre is extremely broad when you get right down to it. It can encompass something like biological tampering with nature as in Jurassic Park and also pseudo-religious philosophy set against the backdrop of a man vs machine conflict in something like Battlestar Galactica. The category is a broad one.
When I think of sci-fi, however, my mind continually jumps to space opera. It leaps to dreams of alien races with different cultures and vast interstellar conflicts. Blame it on things like Star Wars, but it truly has its roots in the black and white Flash Gordon serials for me. All the art-deco space ships on strings with sparklers stuck in the back defined space travel to the young mister SoC and it is difficult to completely over look those memories.
That’s what makes finding Dalgoda such a treat. No, it isn’t hokey like some black and white adventure reel from the 30’s. What it shares in common though is the backdrop of humanity encountering alien lifeforms and dealing with the consequences of intergalactic conquerors with unfathomable motives. Also it showcases heroes who’s actions could save or doom the galaxy.
Published by Fantagraphic books back in 1984, Dalgoda got eight issues before tanking it in. I have the first and the last, but none of the crème filling that makes up the middle portion of the run. I can tell you based on the first issue alone, I was hooked by it.
The story is an original concept by Jan Strnad, the person responsible for that Droids book I reviewed a few weeks ago, as well as various Marvel Star Wars stories, the Sword of the Atom mini, a Retief adaptation and a smattering of like content from all OVER the alternative comic and magazine output of the day.
His partner in crime and the man drawing all the lines is Dennis Fujitake, who also was onboard for Retief and did some Elfquest books as well as the follow up Dalgoda book called Flesh & Bones. That latter Dalgoda books had no less than the overly talented hands of both Alan Moore and Heidi MacDonald pitching in somewhere as writers although those may have been backup stories to Strnad and Fujitake’s four-issue Dalgoda wrap-up.
With this short intro, let’s sail right into the story so you can see what I’ve been raving about, shall we? The book is whopping 44 pages for about triple the price of most new books of the day. While that is a tad bit expensive, the independents did tend to higher prices than the majors as a rule. In this instance, the story and the page count make that number bearable.
We begin with a spaceship crashing to a splashdown on Earth, its sole occupant covered in a space suit. The hatch is blown and the ship takes on water…
But sure enough, the craft’s approach was monitored by someone and t U.S. Navy ship is on hand to pull it from the drink. There is a bunch of speculation about who the ship might belong to between the men who are retrieving it, including the ship’s captain.
Concerned for the pilot’s safety, the captain orders a med team onboard to see if the pilot is okay. The two medics on duty encounter an astronaut with glowing yellow eyes…
…and a blaster pistol of some type. The pilot asks to speak with a person by the name of Kneedan.
While this standoff is occurring inside the ship, a like standoff is occurring outside as the captain, seeking someone who knows about spaceships of this type, has to call upon the services of midshipman Posey Ravencraft. Ravencraft’s entire entrance here shows he is a rebellious smart-ass with a streak for bucking authority. It is evident almost immediately that he will be the human element we come to identify with in the story.
While the medic exiting the ship relays to the captain that the passenger is a Canidan (which is a kind of alien dog-person) who speaks English and has demanded to see his attorney, a person by the name of Kneedan. The captain orders up a gas gun to knock out the traveler, who is holding the second medic hostage, when Ravencraft steps in to remind both the Captain and the other crew via exposition dump of the legal status all Canidans share as automatic diplomats.
He does a little much needed flashback exposition dump to explain how we came to be here. The story takes some time to tell and it isn’t clear the captain is listening to it as the crewmember with the gas gun arrives and gets into position.
The story goes on to explain that after communications were established, 36 year missions were underway to send emissaries to each other’s planets, but that both missions met with disaster. The human ship was destroyed en route…
…which lead to fear and suspicion when the Canidan’s ship arrived. He was incarcerated…
…and assassinated by a xenophobic spectator while in custody.
Before this could escalate into open hostilities between the two races, the reason for our ambassador’s disappearance came to light: a third, hostile alien race existed. They had destroyed our ship and proceeded to attack the Canidan’s space fleet. With the new aliens sporting an unknown technology, an all-out war between the two races began, with humans siding with the Canidans.
Feel those little prickles of interest start to stand up? I do by this point, even with the slightly clunky storytelling device used to bring us up to speed. The truth is, the downed spaceship and it’s mysterious passenger are the hook to get us to listen to this tale of how we got to this point in the universe that Stnard is creating, and for me this approach worked. I was sucked into the story here, wanting to know more about the Canidan’s, the mysterious enemy and the mission of the one holding the medic hostage.
As Ravencraft continues, he shows off why the captain asked him to come. His knowledge of the Canidan’s ship presents some interesting questions.
So the Canidan’s have a new drive type allowing for faster travel. But that’s not all.
Ravencraft is sent in to work things out with our Canidan hostage-taker, even though it is immediately apparent that he was playing the Captain the entire time to get closer to the pilot. Ravencraft also succeeds in swapping himself for the medic and our two main characters get a chance to chat together for the first time.
As they chat, Kneedan and the attorney Trione are in route. One of them is unhappy they weren’t there to meet the craft. In fact this appears to be setup for next issue or so, as the men seem at odds over the Canidan’s reason for being there.
Meanwhile Ravencraft is getting to know the pilot, Dalgoda, and they are beginning to work through the finer points of the situation they are in. And it is also here that we start to feel the “buddy cop” comedy vibe begin. We’ve got two likable, smart characters in a jam who will be forced to work together to get out of it. The problems they face will have world-shattering implications, but the most interesting conflicts will likely come from stresses between the two over trust issues and things from their past. THIS is an amazingly deep story and we are less than half way in with more “good bits” to go.
As Dalgoda removes his suit, we learn the Canidan race is not fairing so well. The enemy, the Nimp, appear to have gotten the upper hand.
But first, a bit of history about how the Canidan got the ship to work…
They discovered what appeared to be ANOTHER alien race…
…only to find out it was an abandoned Gimp satellite…
…which leads to series of shocking revelations about the fate of the Canidans and the threat now posed to Earth. A threat the officials have been keeping from the people of Earth. And even with the fear the Canidans have of our aggressive tendencies, it is now time to share the secret of sub-space travel with us.
Ravencraft states the obvious about the inability of Earth to assist the Canidan race fight off the Nimp with their current fleet. It produces a genuine touching moment just before Dalgoda’s attorney arrives…
Love that bit with the dog ears.
And when you think you’ve got a handle on the book and the characters and the storyline, Strnad sends us to a diner around the corner from Ravencraft’s apartment. We meet two secret service agents over the course of five pages. I will refer to them as “gray suit Frank” and “Black Coat dead guy”. The agents leave the diner, but not before Frank monopolizes the bathroom and stinks it up, and proceed to break in and bug Ravencroft’s apartment. Serveral times people remark that the two are “secret service” and it appears that’s exactly who they are. The word is out on Dalgoda being with Ravencroft and the smart money is to bug everyplace he might turn up at.
I’m saving review space, but believe me there’s a bunch of good back-and-forth between this pair. The sad part of that is that Frank looks like he’ll be a book regular, but his partner? Well, “Black Coat dead guy” doesn’t make it, folks
The one part of this that shouldn’t escape the audience is that Ravencroft got his heart broken by a girl. A girl that left him for a Canidan, which puts a new spin on why he may have inserted himself into Dalgoda’s situation. Or may just be a coincidence, possibly.
And IN Dalgoda’s situation Ravencroft most certainly is. By Dalgoda’s insistence.
It’s a deal Kneedan has to accept at some point and then true to Frank’s thought, Dalgoda and Ravencroft end up at his residence.
On the way to Ravencraft’s flat, Dalgoda and the midshipman discuss how Earth has very few ships available that could be retrofitted with the drives necessary to fight off the Nimp, but mostly Ravencraft has to pull Dalgoda away from every two-bit diner and restaurant they pass.
When they get in, Ravencraft cautions Dalgoda not to speak while he de-bugs the apartment, which is odd that Ravencraft would both know it had been done and exactly where all the bugs would be. He leaves one under the TV with specific instructions.
Although that drawer full of bugs tends to lead one to some other conclusion about why Ravencraft might know about being bugged. Is there some other reason for him to be surveilled?
Anyway, the food at his apartment isn’t fit to eat Ravencraft discovers after heating it, so he pops out to the corner store while Dalgoda naps. On his way out, he passes a terminator robot.
Yeah, I know what you are thinking about so many elements, but this book really takes that sci-fi approach to everything. This is a military grade assassin-bot and he’s been programmed to kill Dalgoda.
And in a book that’s been all character interaction and intrigue and worldbuilding, a bit of laser fired action-chase scent stuff is not just warranted, but NEEDED.
As Ravencraft realizes there shouldn’t be a kill-drone in his neighborhood, we realize exactly how this rounds out the issue.
As round as the hole left in “Black Coat dead guy’s” head.
Or the seat of the toilet our pair is forced to hide in.
Or the one blasted through the chest of the kill-drone by Agent Frank.
As to who did this? It’s a mystery that won’t be solved this issue and that’s a good thing. We end with very buddy-cop banter and a hope that at half the page count, next issue would be just as good.
I truly think Dalgoda was a missed gem. It has all the hallmarks of a good plot and some great sci-fi concepts that I’d like to see played out. I have issues 1 and 8, the beginning and the end of the series, but don’t see the followup four issue Flesh and Blood anywhere in my stacks. I hope to come across them though, because you can be sure after this issue I’ll definitely be looking.