By Patrick Wolf
Some of the best stories ever told were marketed towards children and adults. Examples that come to mind are Disney’s Lion King, Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and DreamWorks’ Shriek. In many ways, Sam Webster’s Unfamiliar Skies attempts to take a similar route. Unfamiliar Skies wants to be a story that's both for children and adults, and it makes a fairly admirable attempt. Unfortunately, while this tale is suitable for children, it wanes in the grown-up department.
Unfamiliar Skies takes place in a distant future where interstellar travel has become so commonplace; it’s no different than hopping on a boat. The plot gets going when the story’s heroine, Claris, runs away from her colony’s vessel and crash-lands on a mysterious planet. Now, in order to get out of the repair bill for her spaceship, Claris must steal an orb for her mechanic. Will she be able to nab the orb in time? Or will she have to fork over the cash herself?
So far, this series is a well-structured, adventure franchise that’s reminiscent of many classic 80’s cartoons. It’s a bit trite with its stock chase-scenes and comeback-phrases, but for kids, it’s a nice, light read. I would certainly recommend this series to anyone seven years and up.
For adults, however, I'm not so certain. The problem is Unfamiliar Skies is just too derivative to feel like a piece of authentic writing. To give an example, throughout issues #1 & 2 you’ll see a lot of Star Wars influences. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s a character that speaks exactly like Yoda (or should I say “Like Yoda he speaks”); there’s a star fleet that’s virtually identical to the Empire’s Tie-Fighters, and there’s a spaceship that actually has an imprint of Darth Vader’s face on it. I understand writers and artists borrow from each other, but there is a fine line between borrowing and “borrowing.”
Another element that’s annoying about this series is the main character, Claris. How do I put this lightly: she’s a bitch. I know that sounds harsh, but—trust me—she has so many vices, it’s really hard to like her. To give an example, just reread the synopsis above. Notice how Claris’ mission stems from her desire to avoid a bill? She’s not stealing the orb because she needs to save the galaxy or because there’s no other way to leave the planet. She’s doing it because she doesn’t want to pay a bill. A bill. Seriously?
To add to this poor motivation, the actual heist itself is a combination of implausibility and convenience. Claris breaks into the mob boss’ house with little effort and fights off a horde of aliens with even less struggle. To top it off, in the chase-scene, she escapes from her pursuers by riding around an inverted loop that’s conveniently placed in the middle of the road. Her pursuers could just ride around the loop, but of course, they decide to loop through it instead. Obviously, they fall to their doom where she succeeds.
The plot gets even more implausible when there’s a series of double and triple-crosses that stretch the story’s believability. There’s even a point where the mob boss captures Claris but then decides to trade with her instead. This normally wouldn’t be so implausible, if the mob boss didn’t try to kill her again the very next issue. I could give more examples, but I think you get the point.
Overall, Unfamiliar Skies is a fine series, provided you only purchase it for your kids. It’s nothing cutting-edge, but it will provide a reasonable dose of entertainment. Since, however, I believe this series is marketed towards teenagers and adults, I’m going to judge it on both playing fields. If it were purely for kids, I’d give it a 4/5; if it were just for adults, 2/5. Since I think it’s both, I’ll split the difference.
Unfamiliar Skies #1 & 2
Creator: Sam Webster