Another one of Image’s several critically acclaimed series came out in trade paperback format this week, at an affordable $9.99 for the first six-issue arc. Black Science is one part Lost in Space, one part Sliders, and one part old science-fiction pulp, all mixed together with a heavy dash of pure chaotic adventure.
The story involves something called the Pillar, a scientific breakthrough that allows travel to all possible universes by punching through the barriers of reality. Without giving too much away, despite the genius that went into the creation of the Pillar, things often go wrong. In this case, the Pillar malfunctions, leaving the characters stranded in the infinite multiverse, bouncing from world to world, each one darker and more dangerous than the last, as they attempt each time to repair the Pillar so they can return home.
This basic set up is pure brilliance on the part of Remender and Scalera, as it allows the reader to visit a variety of different worlds, all beautifully rendered by the artwork of Matteo Scalera and colorist Dean White. The pair has their work cut out for them to illustrate the massive tapestry of a variety of different worlds, but they succeed brilliantly and their results are one of the main draws of this book. Whether they are depicting an alien world where a technologically advanced Native American nation fight a World War One style trench war against an Imperial German army, or a land of mystical monkey cyber warriors living in a pseudo Himalayan mountain fortress, each world is a beautifully detailed visual treat. Each time the group of anarchist scientists jumps back through the pillar, the reader is left wishing they could have stayed and explored the previous world for just a few more pages.
Scalera’s pencils and inks are done in a somewhat scratchy, frenetic style that really accentuates the energy of the book. With the exception of the somewhat more calm flashback scenes where we learn about the creation of the Pillar, the rest of the book is a series of explosive images that truly depicts the tension of the characters’ situation and propels the reader, usually forcefully, through the story. The energetic line work of the art conveys momentum and a sense of anxiety, while the painted coloring style of Dean White is smooth, rich, and deep, drawing the reader in to study every panel and become immersed in the alien worlds we visit.
The characters in Black Science are just as varied and interesting as the dark universes they visit, and their development is another major strong point of the series. This is a series somewhat similar to George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire series (also known as “Game of Thrones” to those who watch the HBO series but haven’t read the books), in that it’s difficult at the beginning to pin down exactly who the main characters are. The League of Anarchist Scientists who created the pillar is a fairly big group, and Remender adds in other characters such as family members and security guards to round out the cast, so as readers we don’t necessarily know where the focus is. This is actually a strategic and clever choice by the creators, as this isn’t your typical comic where you follow the story of one main lead “hero” character and always know that everything will work out for him or her in the end. This is another case where the story has parallels to Martin’s fantasy epic – anything can happen to any character, so it’s best not to get attached to any single one.
One of the other great things about the characters in Black Science is that they are not static. There is no black-and-white in the world Remender has created. So-called “good” characters sometimes do bad things, and bad characters do good things. As such, we are constantly surprised the more we learn about the cast of characters and see how they react to each other and the situations they’re thrown into. There are some truly shocking moments when a character does something so unexpected that can change the way the reader views him, for good or ill, and it happens more than once in this first story arc.
The unique premise, art, and characters in Black Science are superb, and they alone would be enough to make this a true standout book of 2014, but another really inspired choice by the creative team is their use of conflict to help drive the story. In a similar vein to something like the Walking Dead, this book provides the opportunity to explore the three main types of conflict continually throughout the series: man versus man, man versus nature/environment, and man versus himself. While many comics deal mainly with the first type and might touch on the third occasionally, few deal on a consistent basis with the middle type of conflict of man versus nature. However, the very premise of Black Science, that the Pillar which allows travel throughout the multiverse is broken and keeps delivering the characters to hostile alien worlds, forces the characters to deal with how to overcome that challenge. While they deal with the harsh environments they’re thrown into, they also have to fend off attacks from aggressive aliens while dealing with conflict within their own ranks as they blame each other, as well as themselves, for the predicament they are in.
All of this adds up to one of the most imaginative, unique, and visually stunning comics currently being published. Image has made it easy for those who missed out on the single issues to catch up quickly with this low-priced trade collection, which also includes a few pages at the back of character design sketches and variant cover art. All this, plus you get one of the best cliff-hanger finales since “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” (another science-fiction classic; Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about).