“Bountiful Garden” is a horror story about space and terraforming other planets, but not quite in a way you might expect.
Our cast is a crew of children, most of whom appear to be teenagers at maximum. Jane appears to be the youngest, probably no more than preteen in age. They are woken from cryostasis 10 years early because something has gone wrong with the ship.
Their mission is make a new planet habitable, they have two engineers, a botanist, an architect, a biologist and a military personnel member. Their ship has been stopped above a planet with no notable human inhabitants but traces of an old civilization, and lots and lots of plants.
From issue one of the five issues mini-series, you get the impression that something wasn’t quite right with the mission from the outset. They aren’t the first terraforming mission that’s been sent out, and none of the others have ever been heard from again. “The signal’s too weak,” according to the government. Our military boy has complete faith, which makes a lot of sense, but the others aren’t so sure. It’s one of several things that sparks conflict between our crew.
Throughout the story we are teased about the planet, the strange plants growing on it, and the remnants of a religion, as well as about the backstory of the program on Earth that led to these six children being on this expedition. Something I really love was how seamless the backstory about the government program that was woven into the story through the characters. We learn so much about it through short moments of the characters ruminating and discussing why they’re even there. There’s a big pay out involved, but it goes to their parents instead of them, because they aren’t on Earth to collect it. For one person, this will help their parents escape poverty, for another, it inspires bitterness that their parents will be reaping the benefits of their work on an expedition that they were well aware had a high chance of them dying.
The planet’s backstory is given in a different, but no less skillfully done, way, by the characters picking up clues within the text, glyphs found at ruins, strange dreams, and by clues presented directly to the readers that the characters don’t see. The most notable of these is an extra-textual fragment titled “Recording Found at Site 11A,” which appears at the end of issue four and tells the story of how the strange plants came and essentially terraformed the planet.
The art really helps the haunting feelings come through too, the characters are so expressive and distinct, and the inkwash style allows it to be dark, yet vibrant at the same time.
Another thing of note that I enjoyed was how diverse the cast was. There was an even split of female and male characters as well as a diverse array of characters of different ethnicities, a breakdown that allowed for deaths without falling into racist and sexist tropes surrounding character death.
All in all, if you like horror, sci-fi and stories of how interpersonal relationships can fracture when people are isolated and trapped, “Bountiful Garden” is the mini series to check out. It’s newly available in trade paperback as of April 6th!