'Orbiter' opens with images (I fell in love with Colleen Doran's art on page 2, and became more infatuated through every frame) of an abandoned Kennedy Space Centre now housing the poor and dispossessed of a near-future USA - the familiar NASA architecture delapidated, augmented by the detritus of poverty; clean white buildings replaced with shabby tents, abandoned cars, rubbish. Then, having glimpsed the future, things start to go a bit wild. A space shuttle, lost for ten years, returns to earth, landing amongst this ramshackle setting (killing, it is later shown, a good number of the inhabitants). And it seems to be covered in skin. Plus, test samples indicate that it landed on Mars. Techically, it is all impossible. The shuttle, and crew, couldn't last that long in space. Unless, of course, they were helped.
So begins a truly imaginative science fiction narrative - one of the best to ever grace the shelves of a comic shop. And if that wasn't enough to whet your appetite, it may help to learn that 'Orbiter' is written by Warren Ellis - so we're spared nothing; intensity levels dialled up to eleven. There is wonder and awe, in spades; and there is disgusting, strange, weirdness, until you're left wondering exactly where some of the ideas come from. But just as Ellis knows where to pile it on, he also knows when to pull it back in: the final scene is perfect, understated and subtle. Whether you're a reader of science fiction who has never touched a graphic novel, or a comic-buyer who rarely touches straight SF, 'Orbiter' is simply a must-have book.
Additionally, Warren Ellis' introduction, rewritten in light of recent events, is itself a great piece of prose - autobiographical and journalistic, it is a commentary on the need for space-stories (and space exploration), more now than ever. 'Orbiter' was always going to be a great book, but after the loss of 'Columbia' it has become important in ways it wouldn't have been before. And Ellis pins down why.