Back in 1998 Dan Abnett was given the task of rebooting Durham Red, taking her away from being a Strontium Dog and thrusting her into a hostile far future. Waking up from cryogenic freezing one thousand years in the future (in the story The Scarlet Cantos), Durham was to discover that she had become worshipped as a god by mutant kind, who were now locked in a bitter and lengthy war with the Humans. Set five years after the events of The Scarlet Cantos, The Vermin Stars sees Durham attempting to achieve her destiny, by finding an end to the war.

Whereas The Scarlet Cantos was largely concerned with introducing use to this far future universe, The Vermin Stars is much more of a character piece. Durham’s two sidekicks, Godolkin and Harrow, in particular are fleshed out far more this time around. When first introduced they were very much there just to explain to Durham how things had changed since she had been frozen, and to give her some backstory about the war. This time around we discover more about their motivations, and even begin to question just how loyal Godolkin actually is. Meanwhile Durham, who by now is acclimatised to her surroundings, is often seen in her cabin talking to a mysterious voice who is to be revealed towards the end of the story. Abnett succeeds in having the events of these strips change the character of Durham Red. While her actions towards the end of The Vermin Stars are morally questionable, the reader is made to feel sympathy for Durham’s decision and so it doesn’t feel too out of character for her.

The story itself is very much a Space Opera tale on a grand scale. While its nothing ground breaking, or even anything particularly original, it is an immensely enjoyable read. This is due in no small part to the artwork of Mark Harrison. Mixing painted art with computer generated images, the art is a perfect match for Abnett’s epic sci fi tale. The computer generated parts of the art are extremely effective in portraying any of the space scenes and Harrison renders some very visually memorable space ships.  For the most part he manages to blend the painted with the computer generated seamlessly, which had it been done wrong could have ruined the look of the entire strip. My main reaction to Harrisons art though is that it looks extremely filmic, and left me thinking that the trilogy of Durham Red books would actually make a very good movie trilogy. So while the art is never anything less than spectacular, it would be wrong to overlook Dan Abnett’s writing skills. While I did say The Vermin Stars was nothing overly original, Abnett must still be commended for the vivid imagination on display throughout all of his Durham Red strips. The most important thing that a comic strip must do is to never be boring whilst reading, and The Vermin Stars manages this admirably. In fact the whole trade seemed to whizz by in no time at all, so that once I had finished I couldn’t help but feel it was all over rather too quickly.

The cliff hanger ending to the Vermin Stars is an intriguing one and one which sets up the third Durham Red book nicely. While it’s not really necessary to have read The Scarlet Cantos before reading The Vermin Stars, I would still recommend you do so as you will get much more out of both stories. Some purists could argue that Abnett’s reboot took Durham Red too far away from her roots, but if you enjoy grand space opera type sci fi then there is plenty for you to enjoy here.

8/10

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