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Frontier, a different kind of space opera, from Image Comics and Jonathan Hickman

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Star Trek, but depressing

The first words Jonathan Hickman used to describe his new series, Frontier, were "It’s like Star Trek, but super depressing."

The rest of his description did not disappoint.

Sometime in the future, humanity was kicked out of our alliance with a peaceful galactic community for being too prone to violence and disagreement. Cut off from faster-than-light travel — and our extra-solar colonies — Earth’s civilization went into a tailspin. Utopia had been ripped from our hands, and with everyone else out of reach we fought each other tooth and nail over scant resources. When the dust cleared, we formed a homogenous society that sends its undesirables, the Accursed, to a massive prison system on the Moon.

But when the galactic government that cut us off is embroiled in an unexpected conflict, humanity’s worst impulses make us a newly attractive ally. We agree to be cannon fodder in their war in exchange for the keys to the galaxy — and then we send them all of the Accursed.

"People might recognize a bit of Iain Banks Culture series," Hickman told Polygon, "maybe a dash of the Hyperion Cantos, there’s some Eve [Online] mechanics in there," but the "'failed' Star Trek" element to Frontier is the most obvious. And playing with the science fiction trope of humanity’s place in a pan-galactic, interspecies utopia was his primary goal for the series.

Why would we assume expansion is going to work out?

"I just wanted the story to reflect kind of how I feel about society right now. Like, why would we assume expansion is going to work out? I mean, I have hope, but that’s it, any expectation I had as a kid when I first started reading this stuff — that the future, or exploration, or colonization is guaranteed — is nonexistent ... I have hope, but the idea that some species would take a long, hard look at humanity and think, ‘Yeah, those guys look awesome, got to have them in our utopian society, immediately’ seems like wishful thinking."

Frontier has a big setting, but it will find its focus in the crew of a single starship, taking the "traditional components of an exploratory vessel," and then subverting them "as hard as we can," according to Hickman.

The writer and artist, already a veteran of several series published with Image Comics — as well as one of the minds behind Marvel’s recent Secret Wars event and the lead up to it — will be writing and drawing Frontier.

"It’s been about eight years since I’ve flown solo and I’m a little rusty," he told Polygon, "so Andy Kuhn is helping me with layouts. But other than that, it’s all me."

Frontier will hit shelves in November, with larger-than-usual 56-page issues for its first arc. (You can check out the cover of issue #1 below.) Hickman expects that it will continue — "The plan is already in place and the story is there" — but as with most episodic media, it all depends on how its first run is received by readers.

"I’ll do my best," Hickman said, "and if everyone digs it, then we’ll continue on."