Monday, December 15, 2014

Black Science, Volume 1: How to Fall Forever

Black Science is at once familiar and compelling. After reading it, I found myself grasping to make analogies to describe it, and here are some of them:
  • Like Venture Brothers, only with dimension travel and played seriously.
  • Like Lost in Space, only darker and with alternate worlds.
  • Like John Carter, only with a family and lab partners and crossing over multiple worlds.
  • Like Dr. Who, but American, with corporate dynamics of Avatar.
  • Like Jumper, with a family, but I have not seen that movie so I can't really do much more contrasting.
What I can say though, is that this series is intriguing and fun, and although it may seem reminiscent of some other media, I did not feel it was derivative. And moreover, the parts I felt were reminiscent of other works were parts I found appealing and enjoyable. This book is an enjoyable bunch of sci-fi adventure.

The basic elements of the story are these: Dr. Grant McKay, a brilliant, pretty unlikeable, and self-centered scientist invents a "Pillar" that allows people to jump through dimensions. His funder, Kadir, is extremely shifty, manipulative, and controlling. On the day that they were to test the pillar, something goes wrong. Grant, Kadir, Grant's wife and collaborator Jen, Sara (an assistant who is having an affair with Grant), Ward (the chief of security), Shawn (a younger male assistant), Chandra (Kadir's sycophantic assistant), and Grant's two children, Pia and Nate (a teen and a tween) are transported to another world. The Pillar is broken and just keeps launching them into different dimensions on a uncontrollable timer. Making matters worse, there are a lot of competing interests among the cast, and some characters have vendettas to sabotage others.

Like the cast, most of the worlds in this story thus far are pretty hostile, inhabited by frog people who look like they were genetically engineered by Frank Frazetta, tribal people who wear futuristic bird-armor, trench warriors who look like they are still fighting World War I, and giant macaques. If the constant jumping, reorienting, in-fighting, and struggling to survive were not enough under these conditions, there are also a couple of people who seem to be aware of what's going on, and who seem to be jumpers themselves, in pursuit of this band of adventurers. Clearly, the plot has a lot going on, but I think that is what makes this series so interesting.

This series was created by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, and Dean White. Remender is a writer known for his varied original series Fear Agent, Last Days of American Crime, Strange Girl, and The End League. His work seems ubiquitous today, as he has a long list of credits at Marvel and is currently writing their crossover series Axis, which spawned from his prior work on Uncanny Avengers. Scalera has drawn a number of comics for different companies, most notably runs on Secret Avengers and Deadpool for Marvel. His artwork is very kinetic and sketchy, almost cartoonish, in places, and I think it well portrays movement and emotions. White provides the colors, and his work adds depth and a painterly quality, which make most pages appear like the beautiful, old pulp covers. He also has a long list of comics credits, many of them at Marvel.

Most of the reviews I have read praise this series for its combination of sci-fi and pulp elements. And I have to say I agree with the majority of them. I found the story quite compelling, with lots of cliffhangers and jarring plot twists. The character dynamics are a big part of the appeal, because the disparate players all have different motivations and lengths they will go to, which keeps things fresh and fluid. But don't just take my word for it: Derek Royal wrote, "If you like your science fiction “hard,” and you appreciate a bit of the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, then Black Science is the series for you." Keith Dooley summed up his review simply, "it’s just plain fun."

Black Science is published by Image Comics. They have previews and more information about the entire series (currently at issue #11) here.

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