As we "deet deet deet" into the first panel like a capsule descending from outer space, we enter the remarkable world of a space race told comic book style. I've always been a fan of a storyteller who lights a fuse right away. Give us a ticking bomb, a deadline, a finite amount of time in which our hero must succeed or face annihilation: Run Lola Run and Back to the Future did it perfectly and we all remember the catastrophic Y2K computer bug that nearly wiped out the human race and unraveled the fabric of the space-time continuum. Thankfully Dick Clark was there to bring us home in the nick of time.
In the case of T-Minus, the countdown is the premise of the book and while the reader knows that the race will be won when the clock expires, the book's characters are racing against a different deadline: JFK's challenge to put a man on the moon and return him to earth by the end of the decade.
So brings T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, a compelling behind-the-scenes story of the space race filled with software glitches, landing bags that deploy prematurely, loose heat shields and a pair of cosmonauts forced to hide in their downed capsule while Siberian wolves threaten them outside. Told with parallel stories of the United States vs. the Soviet Union, with characters that come and go as the years pass, the artwork pulls you into the world of scientists and space travelers and makes you feel what they actually felt. The character introductions are subtle. Every few pages I say to myself "Oh, there's John Glenn..." or "Hey, that's Yuri Gagarin." They are woven in seamlessly and their allegiance is discernable by a clever variance in speech bubble font (the Russkies speak their words with a backwards N). And it's nice to see that the Soviets aren't portrayed as evil, mindless thugs (Indy 4?) but competent, brilliant scientists and explorers...that is, until they get desperate.
The crisp artwork is filled with first-rate detail, with tiny lifelike tools, soldiers marching to battle and endless knobs, buttons and switches. Most captivating is the iconic imagery of the space missions, especially the highlights drawn into the margins which are reminiscent of the one-shot Sergio Aragonés cartoons from Mad Magazine.
As I sit and write this on a day when six humans in space are awaiting the arrival of seven more, the most ever together in space at one time, I realize what a big deal it was to have two men in space at once, how far we've come and how far we have yet to go. Best part of the book: Yuri Gagarin's landing in the middle of a field and his greeting to the two startled spectators who happen to be nearby.
As a space buff I thought this was a terrific book that elaborated on a great story that we all know. Meant to educate children ages 9-12 it will provide certain enjoyment for adults (I finally learned what woomera means). This is best exemplified by an astronaut who defies his orders and absolutely refuses to go to bed while orbiting the moon because he is too busy taking pictures. Can you blame him? I'd fight to stay awake too!
Mark McGinty is the author of ELVIS AND THE BLUE MOON CONSPIRACY