Starslip Crisis, Volume 1
by Kristofer Straub
Comic trade paperback, 175 pages. Published 2007 (content: 2005-07). Acquired October 2007. Read October 2011.
Starslip Crisis is one of three webcomics where I've bought the content in print despite being able to get it all on the Internet for free. (The other two are the epic Narbonic and the sadly short-lived [nemesis].) It's about an art museum in space, and so it combines two things I like: space opera and theory about how the presentation of a work of art affects its meaning. A lot of it is science fiction parody, but it just as often has character-based humor, not to mention a lot of jokes at the expense of academia. (In the future, Earth's greatest export is culture, and as a result, its government is a critocracy.)
Starslip Crisis starts out a little rough, I think, but it quickly settles down, alternating between daily gags and longer storylines. And when I say "quickly," I mean quickly; about a dozen pages in, and Straub is already starting to hit his groove, with a tale that explains how humans finally stopped robot uprisings by making machines that were smarter than people. Unlike machines just as smart as people, who wanted to kill humans and rule the cosmos, machines who were smarter were all philanthropists and serve humankind out of free will. There's also the Firefly parody (the space rogue Zillion speaks a strange dialect where you always drop the last word of every), and the Cirbozoids, the strange species who have a new biological ability every time the crew needs a new way out of a situation, but best of all is the ongoing conflict with Lord Katarakis of the Dreadnox Cluster.
Now, Lord Katarakis is an evil despot who wants to control the universe, and only Captain Vanderbeam and the crew of the Fuseli stand in his way... but he wants to do it through art. And this means jokes written by someone who has clearly read Walter Benjamin and John Berger. I don't know who this comic's target audience is, but I'm clearly part of it, and it's amazing. Kris Straub has good gags, great sci-fi ideas, fun characters, and an epic plot; Starslip Crisis is one of those works where everything just comes together, and I love it.