I have to admit, Cluster #1 was not a book on my radar. I passed over it when it launched on February 4th and I suspect I’m not the only one. Amidst a week of great releases, it was easy for Cluster to get overshadowed. This is unfortunate because Ed Brisson and Damian Couceiro’s new series is off to a pretty incredible start.
The book is a military science fiction piece, set in the future on the far away planet of Midlothian. Samara Simmons, our protagonist has been arrested for driving under the influence and endangering the public, a crime now punishable by life in prison. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there’s a second option. Criminals serving a life sentence can choose to enlist in the military and serve on the frontlines for fifteen years. Samara chooses option B and is immediately thrust into a conflict with the alien species known as the Pagurani.
Cluster admittedly follows quite a few genre tropes in this first issue. Prisoners have explosives implanted in their body in case they try to escape. The wardens are cold and don’t care if the prisoners live or die. However, the issue doesn’t fall prey to predictability. The book benefits from avoiding exposition-heavy introductions and thrusting readers into the action. There’s a sense that the tropes are used intentionally and I suspect they’ll be subverted in future issues.
Brisson manages to keep things feeling fresh with strong character work. Samara is an interesting character, partly due to the mystery of her past. We’re drip-fed the details of how she ended up in custody as they become relevant to the story. She forms a protective relationship over another inmate named Grace, despite presenting herself as a loner. Her motivations aren’t entirely clear and the fluidity of her character makes for an entertaining read.
The story is brought to life by Couceiro’s dynamic artwork. The character design is impressive, with each character feeling both unique and fully realized. They take command of each panel, partially emphasized by minimal backgrounds. The pacing is quick and makes effective use of smaller panels to keep things flowing. While there was one moment where the page layout got a little confusing, overall the book’s design is top-notch. Colorist Michael Garland does a great job of keeping the environments distinct and interesting and the first few pages are particularly nice to look at.
Cluster #1 is a great read and worthy of much wider recognition. The writing and art are both high quality and genuinely fun to read. Boom! Studios have another hit series on their hands and I highly recommend tracking down this first issue as soon as you can.