REVIEW: ‘Black Stars Above,’ TPB

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Black Stars Above TPB

Black Stars Above TPB is published by Vault Comics. It comes from the creative team of writer Lonnie Nadler, artist Jenna Cha, colorist Brad Simpson, and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.

The book opens with snowfall in a forest. Among the trees several lynx wander, their movements being watched by a man. As the man catches one he approaches it to find its eyes are completely black and dripping with inky tears. The perspective then shifts to a young woman named Eulalie Dubois. She recounts her life at home with her family as they struggled to survive off of her father’s trapping trade.

By chance one day in town Eulalie meets a strange man who offers her a large sum of money to deliver a parcel to a town “up north”. Incredulous at first she accepts the job and runs away from home. Out in the wilderness, she battles against the elements and the labyrinthian woods. But as her travels take her deeper into the forest she begins to see and hear unearthly things, some of which come from inside the parcel she carries. Soon she comes face to face with horrors and truths that few could withstand without descending into madness.

Black Stars Above TPB is cosmic horror first and foremost. In that regard, it is immensely successful. Nadler has crafted a situation that is thoroughly unique in its presentation. Eldritch horror is not often joined with the vast Canadian wilderness. His narrative structure is equal parts ominous and disorienting as the story goes on. The story grows a little confusing toward the end, but that is generally the nature of cosmic horror once things inevitably go off the rails. There is one decision with the story that I really struggled with. This was the eight pages near the middle of the story that were presented entirely as a journal. If I had been reading this as an individual issue then I may not have been so bothered. But, in the middle of a graphic novel, it completely killed the flow and momentum of the story for me.

Black Stars Above TPB

The art by Cha adds a grittiness to the story that helps keep it grounded, even at it’s almost psychedelic. Her characters are expressive, even if they look a little “off” at times. But the real star of the show is the “infant” who Eulali cares for. Cha’s art helps keep this creature a unique mix of horrifying and loveable. Simpson’s colors are excellent. Even the most snow-filled panels are still vibrant rather than bland or washed out. My personal favorite use of his colors is the unearthly glow that the “infant” takes on at times.

But all of this leads to my biggest gripe with the book, which is the letters. The lettering for dialogue is quite good in a lot of places, particularly the “infant”. But the bulk of the story is told through Eulalie’s writing as a narration. Every text box written in this way is done so in a small cursive font. This was exceedingly difficult for me to read. Though I do not struggle to read cursive normally, in this size and presentation it caused me problems. This made it difficult to feel immersed in the story as I regularly had to squint to understand what was being written.

Overall I am fairly lukewarm about the Black Stars Above TPB. The story itself is unique and hits all of the right notes, but its presentation falls a little flat. There’s a lot to like here for fans of the genre, I just wish it had been easier to read and had done a better job with it’s pacing. If you’re looking for unique cosmic horror, this is a solid read. Just be ready to work for it a little harder than usual.

Black Stars Above TPB will be available wherever comics are sold on July 29th, 2020.


'Black Stars Above,' TPB
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TL;DR

Overall I am fairly lukewarm about the Black Stars Above TPB. The story itself is unique and hits all of the right notes, but its presentation falls a little flat. There’s a lot to like here for fans of the genre, I just wish it had been easier to read and had done a better job with it’s pacing. If you’re looking for unique cosmic horror, this is a solid read. Just be ready to work for it a little harder than usual.