Yukimura, Makoto. Planetes. Vol. 1.

Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2015.

It’s 2075 and Earth orbit is just another place to earn a living. Hachirota Hoshino — known to his cohorts as “Hachimaki,” because he often wears one — has been a professional astronaut for three years now, but any lingering romance that might still attach to working in space and living on the Moon has been squelched by the fact that he’s essentially a garbage man. He’s part of the three-person crew of an old, rather junky ship that collects dead satellites, broken-off booster parts, and other debris from the orbital traffic lanes near Earth.

Sharing the chores are the uncomplaining and philosophical Russian, Yuri Malakof, who lost his Japanese wife in a high-altitude aviation accident seven years earlier and who has been in space ever since, searching quietly for her nonexistent remains, and the hard-smoking Fee Carmichael, their pilot and boss from the American South, who can be a very tough cookie and who usually manages to keep Hachi in line. Then there’s Kyutaro, Hachi’s thirteen-year-old brother back in Japan, who builds his own rockets and intends to make it to Mars in a ship of his own manufacture. And there’s Nono, born on Luna and now twelve, the subject of constant medical testing. She’s never been earthside, of course, and she’s very curious about the oceans — but deep space is her ocean. And there’s the rookie, Tanabe, who lives in a world run on love and compassion that Hachi can’t begin to comprehend — and doesn’t want to. But she’s determined to change him.

But all this is background to the upcoming mission to Jupiter, the rare metals which are essential to further human expansion in space. And Hachi, who was previously something of a slacker, is working hard toward his new goal — a berth on the Von Braun. Get famous, use that to make a lot of money, and then buy his own spaceship. That’s the plan. Assuming increasingly violent acts of environmental terrorism don’t derail the project, because not everyone agrees about mining Jupiter.

In my experience, the plot in the typical graphic novel is often on the weak side, even when the actual writing style is above average. There are exceptions to this, like nearly all of Neil Gaiman’s work, but that’s uncommon. And since I’m basically a word person, not a picture person, even the most beautifully done graphic work won’t do much for me if there’s no coherent story behind it. In that regard, Yukimura succeeds amazingly well. His characters are genuine and multidimensional. The dialogue is real, the sort of thing you would expect to overhear in space among those who routinely work there. And the setting itself is absolutely believable. Moreover, while there’s plenty of action, the real story development is internal. Why does Hachi want what he wants? Does he even know? Will his advisory hallucinations help him survive? This is a big book, by the way — twelve chapters (originally published separately) totaling 520+ pages. And this only the first volume.

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