…Some of them still think there is an afterlife to be found out there. All the way out there, beyond the outer darkness. But I know things.
They haven't figured it out, and maybe they never will. There is no afterlife to be found. No heaven, and certainly no hell.
Because we're already there. This is hell.
Outer Darkness is a 2018–present comic book from Image Comics and Robert Kirkman's Skybound. The basic premise is: what if one began with Gene Roddenberry's Wagon Train to the Stars concept, but every trail and destination were extremely haunted, and the oxen and wagon wheels demanded blood sacrifice to function?
Joshua Jerome Rigg returns to the captain's chair of the Charon, "the Galactic Service's finest deep space retriever." The Charon and its crew are headed all the way beyond the Sagittarius Quadrant into the outer darkness past the galaxy's edges. Their only mission: rescue and retrieve somebody the Galactic Service High Command has decided is invaluable to the war against the dryx, a nebulous empire of Bee People.
There are bad things all the way from known space to the Charon's destination, from necro-storms full of rapacious spirits to blue giant stars possessed by demi-Satans, and the animosity among the ship's command staff magnifies the seriousness of each crisis. Rigg is a maverick, particularly at odds with the by-the-book demeanor of Ship Administrator Soreena Prakash and First Officer Alastor Satalis, and he has a personal stake in making it to the outer darkness. Someone important to him is lost there, and Rigg won't let anyone get in the way of bringing her back.
A 3-issue Crossover series, Outer Darkness/Chew was published in 2020.
Outer Darkness contains examples of the following tropes:
- Blood-Spattered Innocents: A simple but useful subversion. The Charon's trip past the demi-Satan star in issue #2 manifests a blood demon in the corridor down which most of the command staff is running, and when Chief Exorcist Reno banishes it, the demon's body explodes in a fountain of gore, showering all present in blood. Afu Chan gives plenty of size to the panel where Reno explodes the demon, but while none present particularly like this outcome, the fact that they spend the rest of the issue casually performing their duties while painted head-to-foot in red says that nobody aboard a Galactic Service ship is innocent to this kind of thing.
- Boxed Crook: Or rather, Boxed Demon. The demon that possessed Corporal Shin is strong-armed into joining the crew after Satalis claims he's bound to the Charon and will just come back if they get rid of him. He's subjected to nightly torture sessions in order to ensure compliance, since he apparently feeds on pain from wherever it comes from.
- The Captain: Joshua Rigg is a Kirk-style captain, in that he leads from the front and acts as something of A Father to His Men by going to unusual lengths to eliminate crew losses…and diverges from that mold by failing to remember Ship Navigator Elox's name with consistency and plotting to eliminate a crew member who Rigg thinks will defy his authority far enough to compromise Rigg's personal goals.
- Cool Starship: The Charon is the Galactic Service's finest deep space retriever, and comes equipped for dangerous long-term missions. Crew members appear to be among the the most skilled or experienced in the service, and some of them have unique abilities.
- Death Is Cheap: Justified and possibly downplayed. The sapient species of the Galactic Service know that souls exist, and a large-enough team of occult mathematicians can locate those souls as they scream toward the outer darkness to pull the spirits of the dead back if they are within range. From there, it's just a matter of stuffing those souls back into blank bodies, which apparently take the shape of the people as they were at some point before they died. However, the story implies some constraints:
- Most spaceships do not have enough mathematicians to perform soul retrieval immediately after someone dies, so a soul may wander the outer darkness for a very long time (or even forever) before someone chooses to retrieve it.
- Characters speak of things like "insurance", "double-insurance", and "guarantees", which represent different levels of value assigned to personnel. Spaceships must make every effort to retrieve the souls of people whom the Galactic Service has guaranteed, should the ship's crew become aware of such a soul, regardless of secondary conditions, while people with different levels of insurance receive lesser priority on death.
- Demonic Possession: A frighteningly common hazard in space. It can happen due to a necrostorm, proximity to a demon star, or an improper soul retrieval.
- Eldritch Starship: The Charon used to achieve standard and faster-than-light space travel through propulsion by a hate-engine, which apparently required regular expulsion rituals performed by exorcists. Now it does so using a god-engine, which traps an eons-old Sumerian god (named "Gallu", after the variety of Sumerian great-demon) that demands the tribute of at least one sapient being at the beginning of every voyage. Beyond that, Agwe remarks to Administrator Prakash that "…you didn't even get a chance to tell [Rigg] about the ghosts", and the strange geometries of the Charon's central structure create the rough shape of the eight-petal lotus (representative of the eight-fold path of Buddhism).
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Sister Magdalena Antona, a nun from the mid-20th century the crew rescues from being trapped in the ghost of a haunted house they encounter.
- Physical God: Possibly Gallu, the key component of the ship's engine. Also, Navigator Elox — or at least he was one some time in the past. Neither are particularly friendly to mortals, though Elox puts up a front of indifference.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Crew members of the Charon come in a number of mostly-humanoid varieties. Some overlap with Little Bit Beastly is present, as usual.
- First Officer Alastor Satalis may be a rubber-forehead devil.
- Ensign Malona Hydzek and Ship Navigator Elox appear to be from two different varieties of luxuriously-crested Lizard Folk.
- The Crone/the Beauty is some manner of Cat Folk.
- Lead Mathematician Willits is a mantis-man-style insectoid alien distinct from the dryx.
- Sci-Fi Horror: It starts with necrostorms leading to Demonic Possession as space navigational hazards and a starship engine containing a god and powered by Human Sacrifice and goes up from there.
- Starship Luxurious: It seems that the Charon has space to spare, and crew members of at least the ensign rank receive private, single-person living quarters with twin-size beds.
- Unbalanced By Rival's Kid: It is revealed in issue 11 (and implied in earlier chapters) that the central reason Rigg is harsh to Soreena is because she is the child of his former love Rochelle and Admiral Prakash, his rival for her affections.