Space Vulture is the sort of work that produces a classic "What the heck?" response: A modern-day recreation of a pulp-fiction-era space opera written by the guy who created Roger Rabbit and the Archbishop of Newark? What's the world coming to?
The story behind the book is almost more interesting than the book itself. It turns out that authors Gary Wolf and Archbishop John Myers were childhood friends who loved comics and space operas, and both have kept up their friendship and interests over the years. Space Vulture is a bit of innocent fun produced from the Archbishop's guilty pleasures, and, given what some Catholic ecclesiastics have been up to these days as part of their guilty pleasures, it's something to be celebrated by contrast.
The story itself isn't a complicated one: Interplanetary small-time hood Gil Terry is arrested by the legendary Galactic Marshal, Captain Victor Corsaire, who takes him to the colony world of Verlinap for processing. While there, Verlinap is raided by Space Vulture, the most notorious criminal in the galaxy, who captures the colonists and plans to sell them into slavery. It's up to Captain Corsaire to rescue the colonists — in particular the pretty and resourceful widow Cali Russell, former chief administrator of the colony — and thwart Space Vulture in the process. While all this is going on, Cali's two young sons, Eliot and Regin, are also trying to rescue their mother with the "assistance" of professional no-goodnik Gil Terry. Will Captain Corsaire find Cali Russell? Will the two fall in love? Will Corsaire defeat the villainous Space Vulture? Will Eliot and Regin find their mother? Will Gil Terry prove to be a hood with a heart of gold? Will the shocking secret past of Terry and Corsaire be revealed?
Of course, if you've ever read a tale like this, you know the answer to all of these questions is "yes."
Is Space Vulture a great book? Not at all. But, gosh darn it, it's a swell romp, and it recreates its source material very faithfully. Captain Corsaire, the two-fisted hero, is a character of Lensman-like rectitude and resourcefulness, and he meets his match in Space Vulture, the galactic Napoleon of crime: a cape-twirling villain of genetic perfection and moral decrepitude. Cali Russell is appropriately plucky and her boys resourceful beyond their years. The only character who undergoes any real change is Gil Terry, who finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his criminal cynicism while being saddled with the care of two energetic boys; his moral rehabilitation is one of the main elements of the plot.
Which leaves the question: If it's co-authored by an Archbishop, is Space Vulture a Catholic book? Well, no. And yes. There isn't really anything explicitly Catholic in the book at all. But there are certainly a number of Catholic themes present. Cali and her boys are regular churchgoers who derive a lot of their pluck and fortitude from their faith. Space Vulture is a despicable villain because he has used a battery of artificial enhancements to acquire abilities beyond that of any other human or alien in the galaxy — since he is unmatched, he believes he is above normal morality and may do what he pleases. He also enslaves his followers through mind control, consciously depriving them of their free will, a quality he considers inefficient. By contrast, Captain Corsaire derives much of his strength through his moral code, which he follows faithfully, even when it puts him in danger. This goes beyond the typical space Western "refusal to draw on an unarmed man": Corsaire at one point refuses to "put someone out of their misery" because that isn't the sort of thing heroes do, and he pays a price for his kindness before he is vindicated. And so on. Thus, while Space Vulture isn't explicitly Catholic, it does faithfully reflect the values of an earlier time in American history, a time when Catholic values were shared to a greater degree by society-at-large. As such, it's one of those books written for adults, but perfectly safe for younger audiences as well.
Perhaps I'm analyzing too much, but I find myself wondering: In a time like ours, when the Church is seemingly the last partisan of the power of human reason, is it possible that she might come in time to be the last bastion of human heroism as well, defending a set of values that can result in the production of an old-fashioned work like Space Vulture, with innocence and without irony? To a generation that knows the term "pulp fiction" only as the title of an overrated and amoral film by Quentin Tarantino, a reminder that the best of pulp fiction once featured heroism and larger-than-life characters often standing alone against great evil in a corrupt universe (as Captain Corsaire must face down Space Vulture without the help of corrupt and ineffectual Star Patrol) can only be a good thing. Perhaps we shall see more from the good Archbishop and his plucky sidekick Wolf, since Space Vulture ends as works of its kind usually do, with plenty of room for a sequel. Or even a series.
After all, if a book's rear cover proclaims enthusiastic words of support from the likes of Gene Wolfe (a decorated Catholic sci-fi writer), Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J. (an astronomer at the Vatican observatory), and Stan Lee (creator of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four), what else can I do but join the chorus of praise?
— Christopher Beiting, NewOxfordReview.org