It’s easy to look back at the disco era and laugh at the exaggerated aesthetic, but its glitz and playfulness makes the style a great fit for light-hearted spectacles. The new miniseries, Astro Hustle (Dark Horse), fully embraces the disco look to bring a retro flair to its sci-fi tale of a presumed dead criminal, Chen Andalou, who wakes up 60 years after being placed in cryogenic sleep. Written by Jai Nitz with art by Tom Reilly, colors by Ursula Decay, and letters by Chris Crank, Astro Hustle combines cosmic swashbuckling and political intrigue as Chen joins a band of space pirates and discovers that his brother has become the president of the galaxy.
The opening sequence of Astro Hustle #1, establishing a Barbarella-esque erotic sci-fi tone, is an alienating bait-and-switch that gets the book started on the wrong foot. The first page ends with a foregrounded butt shot, but emphasizing the erotic isn’t the issue here. The problem is that this character dies at the end of the prologue, so her function in the narrative is to be a sexy corpse. This opening sequence can potentially repel readers who would otherwise enjoy this cheeky sci-fi series, and it’s unnecessary when the introduction of Chen functions just as well as the start of the story.
Across the first three issues of Astro Hustle, Nitz crafts a rollicking plot around a charismatic central character who doesn’t know who he can trust. There’s no shortage of imagination on the page, but Nitz does fall into the common trap of leaning too far into made-up slang, particularly for curse words, which becomes distracting when it’s too frequent. Using an invented word for “fuck” or “shit” can be acceptable, but one can feel the strain when he replaces a colloquialism like “No shit, Sherlock” with “No flib, Fleblock.” That said, the breakneck pacing and exciting twists compensate for the occasionally awkward dialogue, and Nitz gives his collaborators a lot of very fun material to bring to life with dynamic, expressive visuals.
Nitz has worked with some remarkable collaborators on his Dark Horse creator-owned titles. Dream Thief was the professional debut of Greg Smallwood, who would go on to be a major talent at Marvel, and Astro Hustle’s Reilly and Decay make incredible impressions with their first published work. Reilly’s rich inking calls to mind artists like Chris Samnee, Evan “Doc” Shaner, and Michael Walsh, filling each panel with detail but giving images space to breathe so the linework never seems overly fussy. Reilly’s design sensibility blends disco with Victorian fashion elements, giving the book a distinct visual flavor that is accentuated by Decay’s pastel and neon palette. These artists are phenomenal, and each issue of Astro Hustle reveals new facets of their talent by pushing the story in unexpected directions.