It’s not often these days that I’ll give a book a five-out-of-five. With respect to my fellow comic book critics, I think we have a tendency to inflate our scores a skosh. Sometimes that comes from a good place; other times, a more self-serving one. Either way, mitigating expectations as regards scores serves an important twofold purpose of (a.) elevating the art form, and (b.) allowing true standouts to shine. Not everybody can be world champ, after all. Nor should they be. And I’ve been trying to be better about tempering my own scores, to varying degrees of public outcry. Still, though, there are books that legitimately deserve to be accorded top marks for when they achieve what they set out to do - for lack of a better word - perfectly. Space Riders #1 is one such book. I read this thing three times before writing my take on it. And with each reading, it became better and better, until by the end, in the words of Mono (Space Riders’ devout anthropomorphic baboon space bandit), I could, “See it all!! The beautiful CHAOS.” And I was blinded by how bat-shit amazing it was.
Admitting difficulty in succinctly or effectively summing up the total of what makes Space Riders #1 so goddamn great, what I will say is that it follows the exploits of the (in)famous Capitan Peligro, which incidentally translates magnificently to “Captain Danger,” and may or may not be borrowed from the Spanish version of an obscure, mildly disturbing and poorly-animated 1960s cartoon I randomly found on YouTube. But I digress...
Bested in space combat and ocularly disabled by the presumably-nefarious Hammerhead of the Norrax Armada, the illustrious Capitan (as he demands to be called) is deemed unfit by his Colonel (a talking “cybertooth tiger”) and is relieved of duty for a full calendar year (or the space-based approximate thereof). Of course, you can’t keep a lushly-bearded, one-eyed chingón down for long, and after pistol-whipping the snot out of some wookie-looking assclown like the smooth pimp he is, Peligro is recruited back into the Space Rider fold by the selfsame sexy robot that caused his sabbatical and the aforementioned Mono, who, might I point out, wears ass-less space chaps. Y’know, because he’s a baboon hard as fuck!
Tasked with once again proving his worth to Space Rider command via three labors under strict rules, Peligro’s prodigal return to prominence is interrupted by foulmouthed New Gods-esque space pirates, whose intrusion launches our motley crew into a short but piquant cosmic battle wherein evisceration rays and monkeys punching the skin off of fools are de rigueur, and existential warp drive-driven hallucinations are but a prelude to the budding misadventure in the series.
If you haven’t quite figured it out yet, Space Riders is ludicrous; but what sets it apart from similar fare that may otherwise quickly unravel into outright farce, is that it’s also both really smart and absurdly fun. Rangel’s script is terse, almost to a fault. Almost. Sure, certain things are glossed over (like what exactly E.I.S.F. stands for) and we, as readers, are sent spiraling hither and tither at a breakneck pace. But incidentals like that don’t actually matter for this story, because the payoff you get is the same pulpy absurdity you do in a 1980s action flick about cosmic cowboys and space knight motorcycle gangs.
In fact, that narrative audacity is something that shines through in almost very aspect of Space Riders #1, including Capitan Peligro’s tinge of Americanized Latin flavor. Intentionally insulting as it may be, I love how he appropriates (and in my head, flat-out butchers) Spanish slang like ándale in a way John Wayne might; either on purpose or out of not giving any mierdas. It’s a great bit of characterization that gives the story a fantastically singular spirit, as much as it is also a loving homage.
Combined with a dialogue style as curt as its storytelling method, Space Riders also boasts a wickedly dry sense of comedic timing that colors the entirety of the first issue. And that’s not even mentioning its more bold-faced morsels of awesome, like Peligro building a spaceship he calls the Santa Muerte (or “Saint Death”) in the form of a human skull-like MadBall, to make his enemies, in his words, “shit their goddamn pants.” Then again, that isn’t the only thing which makes this book the shit.
I knew I’d seen Ziritt’s artwork before, but couldn’t immediately place it, until finally figuring out (via his website) that he did the covers of BOOM’s Loki: Ragnarok and Roll, which, in my opinion, were the most standout parts of that series. His work here is just...well, it’s fucking phenomenal, if you want me to be concise. But for a deeper analysis, you’re gonna have to bear with me for a hot sec.
While comparisons will easily (and rightly) be drawn to Kirby, Ziritt’s stuff is more than that. He takes that Krackle and cooks it on a spoon with a little bit of Matt Kindt, cut with Ed "Big Daddy" Roth Rat Fink art, some melted-down Crayolas, a handful of Jason and the Wheeled Warriors toys, and like, a shit-ton of acid; all shot deep into your main vein with a liberal seasoning of sugary children’s breakfast cereal and your dad’s hidden stash of Heavy Metal magazines. And by-god is it stupendous.
I’ve been pretty hard on a few other books recently for having what I referred to as “stiff” art; or that kind of unpolished, almost anachronistic style that feels clunky or sloppy. So you might expect me to say something similar of Ziritt’s work here; but the fact is, it’s absolutely ideal for the lunacy so inherent to the Space Riders concept.
Yes, it’s busy, and perspective is batty at points (to say the least), but it is done so with purpose, stretching itself nostalgically, but organically, in a way similar to Scioli’s stuff in Transformer’s VS. G.I. Joe. On top of that, this may be one of the most colorfully vibrant and expressive books I’ve looked at in the past ... geez, I don’t even know how long. And yet, it’s also deliciously percolated through this worn atmospheric filter, making each page feel like some recently unearthed lost treasure. Props too go to the multitalented Ryan Ferrier for integrating much of the lettering into the tapestry of each page, making me want to turn everything into full-wall posters all the more.
All-in, Space Riders #1 is a tremendous start for the series and a general achievement, not just for this team, but for Black Mask Studios, which, thanks to books like 2013‘s Ballistic and the recent We Can Never Go Home, is quickly becoming my favorite “one to watch” publisher. I feel completely unabashed and totally justified in giving this puppy a perfect score, for being the comic book equivalent of a “sex hammer,” because it just fucking nails it.