For the longest time I’ve been a fan of science fiction, both written and on television and in movies. One of the few cartoons I remember watching as a child was the old Star Blazers series (Space Battleship Yamato, for those purists out there, though the dubbed version was among the best of the early dubbed animes). Perhaps that is part of the reason behind my fondness for space operas and science fiction that focuses on the exploration of outer space (though I’ll admit that having been born in the Apollo Era might also have something to do with this).
As such, Outsider fits quite nicely in my interests. It’s the story of Ensign Alex Jardin, who was a member of the Earth scout ship Bellarmine as they scouted out a warzone between two alien factions: the Loroi (who had a reputation as genociders) and the Umiak (who had a reputation as slavers). Neither side would allow an alien race to remain neutral, possibly due to the potential threat of a neutral power could pose should it wait until the two primary powers weakened one another through nonstop warfare.
Fortunately, humanity was warned by one race who had tried to remain neutral… until the Umiak invaded and enslaved their populace. These refugees are also kind enough to teach humanity the common trade tongue, of which we get some dialogue before the comic switches over to the trade tongue full-time (rather than use < and > as a means of identifying non-English language all the time, which would get old fast).
While I won’t spoil too many things for you, through situations beyond Alex’s control he finds himself stranded on the Loroi vessel Tempest, where he finds himself among a race of blue-skinned, pointy-eared telepathic amazons who are quite amazed at how… similar humans are physically to the Loroi. They also find it somewhat disturbing that humans are resistant to Loroi telepathic probes, especially as much of their intelligence-gathering and defense depends on their telepathy, which comes in handy for Alex as he soon realizes despite a telepathic interrogation that he has some level of bargaining power as the impromptu ambassador for his species.
Interestingly, Outsider plays with several tropes traditional to the space opera genre and then twists them to interesting ends. One such trope was when Beryl, the tactical analyst assigned to Alex, asked about his mating needs and if he was going to require medical aid in this regard. Rather than a cheap come on (as I initially believed it to be), it was a cold analytical determination based in part because the Loroi culture has a significant female-to-male ratio, with males playing the role of studs (the Loroi find it fascinating that male and female humans are at a 1:1 ratio for the most part). Likewise, Alex didn’t play it off as a means to get into a blue-skinned alien’s pants… but instead was taken aback and slightly offended by what was said.
At several times I’d watch Beryl show considerable interest in Alex, watching him constantly while he reacted to events around him. Eventually I realized this wasn’t attraction or the like. Instead, Beryl was studying this human to learn as much as she could of him through observation (especially as telepathic examinations had provided minimal data). In short, he wasn’t a person as such (or at least he wasn’t considered an equal to the Loroi). He was a specimen to be studied. No doubt half the reason why he wasn’t dissected or the like was that alive, he provided more value to the Loroi than he would dead. The moment his value ended, he could very well end up dead.
Another thing I found fascinating was the character of Alex himself. While he was depicted as at-times brash with a tendency to get into trouble, the moment he’s alone on the Tempest he shows considerable constraint. He avoids mouthing off (he thinks of it, but he behaves himself for the most part) and puts himself forward as a professional. It is a refreshing change from the traditional variations of his character in both anime and in most space operas, and I must admit I was surprised to see this type of character behaving as intelligently as he should.
This isn’t to say everything is perfect with the comic. One thing I find puzzling is the fact that a species that evolved telepathy as its primary method for communication would also evolve vocal cords that would be effective in communicating with other species. Likewise, I was puzzled at the commander of the fleet issuing orders verbally; perhaps this was partly because of the non-Loroi accompanying the Loroi task force as they fought an Umiak attack force, but it still seemed incongruous. The final thing actually isn’t an issue, and that’s the physical similarities between humanity and Loroi… instead, this seems to be a plot point that may play out later in the series. And even so, these are minor quibbles at best.
To sum up, Outsider is a fascinating, well-drawn, and well-written science fiction story of first contact with an alien species. The aliens might seem fairly human, but there were some refreshing differences that allowed the Loroi, the Umiak, and the other species depicted to be alien rather than funny-looking humans (though the Loroi were still closest to humanity in actions and behaviors). Personally, I suspect Outsider will appeal to any fan of good storytelling, even if they don’t usually enjoy science fiction, and I have to highly recommend this comic.