After merely gazing at what lay beyond the Earth for centuries, humans finally entered the space age about half a century ago. Since then, a wealth of media has explored the wonders and perils of traversing the final frontier. And though most stories reside in the boundless realm of imagination, some take a (relatively) more realistic approach. They utilize realistic factors like air supply and the effects of isolation in order to drive the narrative, create drama, and push characters' to their mental and physical limits. The result is often a comment on the nature of humanity and its place in the universe. So with Christopher Nolan's Interstellar the latest Hollywood space spectacle and the Rosetta space probe's historic touchdown on a comet last week, here are a dozen hard science fiction space comics.
The Adventures of Tintin: Explorers on the Moon
Tintin and crew find themselves aboard a rocket ship and eventually on the surface of the moon in this classic adventure. Trouble ensues when a nefarious stowaway is discovered on the ship, jeopardizing the crew and mission. Since the publication of the story predated manned space flight, Hergé based many of his designs on existing concepts and theories, many of which were later proven to be scientifically accurate.
Makoto Yukimura, 1999–2004
Planetes follows a crew of space debris collectors who clear away and salvage space junk from the paths of satellites in the year 2075. Protagonist Hachimaki dreams of venturing further into space, and one of the series' main themes is the relationships between the characters. While the manga took more artistic liberties with the depiction of space, the anime adaptation consulted with JAXA, Japan's national space agency, and put extra effort in making the show as scientifically accurate as possible. Both the manga and anime won the Seiun award for best science fiction series in 2002 and 2005, respectively.
Nick Abadzis, 2007
Based on the true story of the Soviet space dog that was the first living creature to orbit the Earth on Russia's Sputnik II in 1957. Abadzis tells the story through a number of real-life characters including Laika herself. The graphic novel has a poignant tone throughout, as Laika did not survive the mission, and ultimately laments the use of living creatures as test subjects. The book won the Best Publication for Teens Eisner Award in 2008.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Jack Kirby, 1976–1977;
Based on the classic science fiction novel/film, Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey began as a one-off direct adaptation of the story, which was revolutionary in its realistic depiction of space. He would subsequently produce a 10-issue miniseries which expanded on some of the concepts such as the star child.
Peter Hyams & Jim Steranko, 1981
Outland is another film adaption, this time of Peter Hyams's 1981 space western of the same name. In it, a space marshall uncovers a drug smuggling ring at a mining operation on a moon of Jupiter. Despite taking place in the future, the movie remains grounded thematically, and its production design is more industrial than fantastic. The comic is illustrated by Jim Steranko, who added more speed and action, as well as his signature flair for layout and panels.
Ministry of Space, Orbiter, Ocean
Warren Ellis, Chris Weston, Colleen Doran, Chris Sprouse, 2001–2005
Writer Warren Ellis has dipped his toe into hard sci-fi a number of times, beginning with Ministry of Space, illustrated by Chris Weston. The three-part miniseries takes place in an alternate history where Britain became the international hub for space travel as opposed to the US and USSR. In Orbiter, illustrated by Colleen Doran, a space shuttle that mysteriously vanished 10 years ago reappears with only one crew member left alive, and a team of scientists are tasked with investigating what exactly happened. Ocean, illustrated by Chris Sprouse, takes place on a space station orbiting Europa, where hundreds of an ancient race of humanoids are found cryogenically frozen beneath the surface of the Jovian moon.
David Hopkins & Brent Schoonover, 2012
Hopkins and Schoonover depict the trials and tribulations of the families of three alternate astronauts during the space race in the 1950s. But there's a secret the children of two of the astronauts discover that will forever change the way they see their fathers. The comic tackles themes of family, responsibility, and abandonment, and also provides the often overlooked history of NASA and the US space program in its early years.
Chūya Koyama, 2007–ongoing
As youngsters, brothers Hibito and Mutta Nanba both decide to become astronauts, the former planning to go to the Moon, the latter Mars. Twenty-five years later, Hibito is on his way to the Moon, while Mutta languishes. But suddenly he is accepted into a new astronaut training program, giving him the chance to finally fulfill his dream. Thanks to cooperation with JAXA, Mutta's training mirrors what actual astronauts endure, and much is made of the actual logistics involved in space travel. The comic has been adapted into an anime series and film and a live action feature, and has won numerous awards in Japan.
Charles Soule & Alberto Albuquerque, 2013–ongoing
Shortly after U.S. President Stephen Blades is sworn in, he is given a letter from his predecessor outlining a top secret space mission to make contact with a mysterious construction project located in the asteroid belt. The mission began seven years ago and the crew are on verge of reaching its destination. Conspiracies both on and off Earth fuel Soule and Albuquerque's political thriller, which attempts to depict what would really happen if intelligent life was found.
Yukinobu Hoshino, 1984, 1990
Nineteen loosely related stories (or "Nights") which span centuries and deal with mankind's entrance into deep space. Most of the Nights take place in chronological order and incorporate past events and technology from earlier episodes. Hoshino took inspiration from both 2001: A Space Odyssey and One Thousand and One Nights to create a fantastical, but scientifically accurate (or plausible) saga.