A person wakes up in a strange place and has no recollection of how they got there. Maybe they have amnesia, maybe just spotty recall, but part of what rests before them is a quest not only to figure out how they got there but to also fill in the gaps of their own identity. Pretty standard plot, you see it lots of times, and the onus of anyone mining it is to make something fresh with it, or at the very least offer the audience something to care about.
In Canopus #1, these aspects are all there, but the world that our protagonist has been dropped into slowly unfolds into something pretty different that keeps you reading along. And even as you start to decipher clues and feel like you may know what is going on, there’s still enough substance that your desire to not only see if you’ve read the situation correctly but also find out how the revelations unfold will carry you along.
Dr. Helen Sterling wakes up on a barren planet in an unknown part of space next to some kind of spaceship with a navigation system that informs her that she’s a few hundred light-years away from Earth. As she begins to devise ways to get back to her home planet, she’s merrily greeted by a strange little guy named Arther with a teardrop-shaped head who claims that she is his mother.
Together the castaway astronaut and her funny little sidekick step out onto the planet in a quest for the materials needed to engineer a return home, but what’s encountered out there is either terror lurking within the planet or within Helen’s psyche or somewhere in-between. This is juxtaposed with recovered memories of her past that spell out instances of loss that have wounded her emotionally and feelings of loneliness that have defined her place in the universe. They also provide some philosophical themes in the form of botanical theory in which plants, particularly trees, become stand-ins for humans in an examination of the emotional struggles of living creatures.
If Canopus starts out utilizing a standard plot, the pieces it brings to fill it out are intriguing and original. And the world in which Helen walks is beautifully realized, with Dave Chisholm’s art lending it a classic alien planet feel like something out a ‘50s comic, but which morphs into intense manifestations of psychological terror populated by surreal constructs and absurd creatures.
Chisholm has said that Canopus is inspired by his own demons, and the idea that the creator’s experience represents another dimension in this story suggests that Helen’s search for self is mirrored within Chisholm. That adds something genuine to that not only brings the fantastic elements down to earth but puts the personal aspects into universal terms that make Chisholm’s own experience something we can all explore together.