Perhaps unsurprisingly for a series about being a teenager, Joyride obviously has big dreams. Though it is/was a four-issue mini-series (was because it was announced on release day that the series would continue as an ongoing), the opening installment of Joyride is focused entirely on introducing you to the crew of the Starship Awesomesauce and their mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, to go where no human has gone before and to do it boldly AF.
It’s kind of odd to bury the lede this way unless its essential that we connect with the cast. The totalitarian earth and galaxy of possibilities beyond the Safesky (which I consistently read as a surname, despite knowing better), are enticing plot hooks, but, with little movement on those fronts, this easily could have been a disappointing opening. Thankfully, Kelly, Lanzing, and To bring an essential humanity, the good and the bad, to their cast, and that keeps things moving smoothly.
Our teenage protagonists are neither written off nor entrusted with the survival of the galaxy. Sure, Uma and Dewydd’s plan is ambitious, but they’re not the chosen ones, they’re a pair of kids, seemingly on their own, doing what it takes to escape their shitty situation. The relationships and the context are left intentionally vague, but the character work is crucially specific. The unnoticed desperation in Dewydd’s voice or the hints of a history nerd beneath Uma’s rebellious bluster do a huge amount to set this series apart.
Lanzing and Kelly do a fantastic job of satisfying curiosity while opening more questions. From an alien syntax to the holes in our understanding of history, every page strives to offer something to the reader while quietly drawing them in for more. The slang, while perhaps a bit too similar to our own for realistic sci-fi, is believable and particular, not to mention really fun.
And, honestly that’s the biggest draw of Joyride, right there in the name. It’s fun, there is joy. The biggest flaw? Well, on the writing side, there kind of isn’t one. If I were pressed, I’d say the sluggish start to the series, but, as I said, the story benefits from the careful approach and the sting of one-fourth of the series being relegated to set up is more than soothed by the announcement of an ongoing. So, really, the biggest problem is merely that it doesn’t blow you away. Joyride doesn’t necessarily grab you the way that a Triple A title, a Saga or a The Wake, might, but it’s solid and enjoyable and throughout.
Add to that Marcus To’s artistic skill and mind-melding understanding of his writers and you’ve got quite a winner. Joyride’s writing process was designed to let the writers be writers and the artist be an artist, this issue proves that this team is entirely capable of combining those without losing a sense of cohesion. It’s clear that we’re benefitting from the arrangement, as Marcus To constantly throws intriguing and skillful layouts at the reader at a rapid clip.
The quality of the artwork is high as well, bringing that perfect mix of simple and complex that fans of To’s work know well by now. The characters not only speak with specificity, but react with it. The acting in To’s art is a huge part of this issue’s success. The frustrations and power dynamics of the characters are always completely clear, but it never feels like the art is just telling you what you’re supposed to know. You probably have friend who act like this.
The one weakness in this regard is the issue’s lone alien, who doesn’t quite click. His over the top design helps evoke the disrespect for his authority that the book runs on, but it feels out of place. To also downplays the importance of backgrounds to a degree that I’m not sure helps the series.
But, while some panels are perhaps a little obvious in their intention to get us from ‘A’ to ‘B’, plenty of panels that normally would fit that description are quick and tastefully unmentioned moments of greatness. It really feels like it was the little things, the way you read a page, the timing of a smirk or a quiet look, etc. that were at the forefront of To’s mind while crafting this and, while he delivers the consistent quality of work that he’s provided in the past, it’s these details that elevate the book. The book, not just the art, for, as I mentioned, the creators are working together fabulously and in ways that are both clever and not necessarily apparent.
Form follows function for Joyride. This story of careful thought and enthusiasm bringing a trio together and rebelling against stifling restriction by embracing movement and space certainly seems to have parallels in life, but the reverse is true as well. Especially under its initial expectation of a four-issue run, this feels like the negotiating phase before a poorly thought-out but utterly memorable trip.
Some people don’t end up going on those joyrides; that’s just not their thing. Just the same, I expect that some readers won’t find this issue mind-blowing, but, for many, I think this is a chance to spend some time getting to know your newest fictional friends. Whether it strikes your fancy or not, Joyride #1 is a wonderfully crafted debut. We’re all Catrin in this moment. I strongly recommend you give Uma’s plan a chance.