TRADE RATING: Euthanauts is a transformative Memento mori for our time

Euthanauts Vol. 1, Ground Control is out 2/27/2019.

By Harrison Stewart — I’ve always appreciated Alan Moore’s definition of magic. Instead of focusing on specific words or iconography, he posits that magic is simply a “purposeful engagement with the phenomena and possibilities of consciousness.” I can’t say for certain whether the creators of IDW’s Euthanauts had this exact definition in mind when crafting their work, but I can say this: There is true magic at work within these pages.

Ostensibly a trippy space opera with a Gothic twist, Euthanauts defies simple classification. It isn’t quite horror, despite loving nods to genre tropes. Nor is it pure adventure, despite prevailing senses of discovery and wonder. The story floats comfortably in the middle, employing familiar trappings to introduce novel ideas.

Chief among them is the notion that we have the power to define our own relationship with death. The concept may have ancient roots in many world cultures, but there are inherent difficulties in relaying such a message to an Anglophone audience. Social and religious pressures have long rendered engagement with the subject taboo. And when we do speak of death, our lexicon is strictly pejorative. Fear of the thing is prescribed even by our language.

Keenly aware of these innate discomforts, writer Tini Howard wisely turns to humor and allegory. The dialogue snaps, moving at such a clip that any sense of disquiet never has the chance to settle. Characters feel alive and fresh, each unique yet bound by the same forces. Howard establishes deep connections with her cast simply by allowing them to breathe and hold their own opinions on the strange events unfolding.

Initially, I was frustrated by the lack of clear boundaries to the world. The exact rules and functionality of the central technology are often confusing, at times even incomprehensible. But in the end, these concerns prove to be a forest-for-the-trees situation. I was thrilled in hindsight by Howard’s resistance to heavy-handed exposition. This is a writer who not only trusts but rewards her readers’ intelligence and patience, monthly release schedule be damned.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the story’s distinction between suicide and euthanasia. Though the line is often thin, Howard walks it with the utmost nuance and grace. She carefully sidesteps the temptation to conflate the two, painting violence and despair as the cancerous agents that corrupt our ability to claim “The Good Death.” In doing so, Howard stakes out a truly unique and sympathetic position in the conversation that has become increasingly relevant to our social media saturated generation.

While Howard’s words alone would make for a fine novel, Nick Robles’ art elevates them to soaring heights. Nearly every page is a feast for the eyes, demanding your full attention and appreciation. The imagery and visual motifs are as wildly ambitious as they are effectively mesmerizing. Oftentimes, I would simply stare at a page for minutes on end, occasionally backtracking because I still couldn’t believe he’d pulled them off with such apparent ease.   

Robles masters the art of drawing your eye across the page. And that is no small feat in a book that isn’t afraid to shirk traditional panel structures. As topsy-turvy as the plot that drives them, the pages are delightfully innovative and clean. By visually melding the worlds of the living and dead, Robles puts his own stamp on the story, demonstrating the importance of writer/artist pairing in comics.

This is just a some of Euthanauts’ incredible artwork. By Nick Robles and Eva de la Cruz.

I love this book. And the experience is only enhanced by the collected edition. This is a story that is meant to be read and reread, each time offering new and exciting revelations. You’ll pick up on little nods and plot threads that seemed insignificant the first time around, only to reveal themselves upon closer examination as carefully planted seeds that will come to full bloom. Editor/curator Shelly Bond and the Black Crown imprint et al are to be commended for allowing such a potentially off-putting comic to come to print – the medium is better for it.

It was only after my third reading that I realized the impact of the spell that had been cast. The work haunted me, but I couldn’t say why. The death-positive undertones were entirely new to me, but I now stand indebted to the creators for a fabulous introduction. Though Euthanauts takes time to fully appreciate, the end result forms a delicate and sophisticated Danse Macabre that eschews morbidity for unabashed optimism. It is a timely invitation to join the conversation about the one thing which binds us all: the end. You would do well to accept.

Euthanauts, Vol. 1: Ground Control
Tini Howard
Artist: Nick Robles
Colorist: Eva de la Cruz
Letterers: Aditya Bidikar, Neil Uyetake
Publisher: IDW - Black Crown
Release Date: 2/27/2019

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Harrison Stewart is an aspiring human being whose goals include solving the mathematical equation for love. Follow him on Twitter for more writing stuff.