THE WORLD NEEDS MORE "BLACK SCIENCE"
I have a rant I occasionally go into when I'm in a bad mood. I think parts of it have spilled out into this column before, but let me just recap it for you:
We settle too easily with our comics entertainment. We forgive the shortcomings too easily because we want to enjoy something. We know that real world stuff often gets in the way of perfect comics, from creator friction to artist sickness to competing offers from higher-paying companies robbing a book of a key piece of its creative team. Life is cruel. Things happen that's far out of our control. But we accept it because we have no choice, and go on forgiving books for their shortcomings, never demanding that they do better.
I'm as guilty as the next guy. Realistically, it's the only way to stay sane. As entertaining as a weekly rant might be on the internet, it doesn't build anything. It doesn't point us in a better direction. It doesn't overcome the issues that we can't control.
Comics are imperfect, created by imperfect people in imperfect situations. C'est. La. Vie.
That's why it's imperative that we shout it from the highest rooftops when a book comes along that avoids all those traps. When there's a book that fires on every conceivable cylinder, we need to point to it with every available finger. When a book comes along that's so perfectly packaged -- with a clear style in the art, the writing, the coloring, the lettering, and the cover design -- it's a book that is working hard to overcome the realities of life to make a better comic.
"Black Science" is that book right now. Three issues in, it's one of the most creative and entertaining comic books out there. I can say that without reservation and without qualification. That doesn't happen too often.
It's a science fiction or fantasy tale, depending on your viewpoint. I'll just let the copy from the first solicitation tell you the back story:
Grant McKay, former member of The Anarchistic Order of Scientists, has finally done the impossible: He has deciphered Black Science and punched through the barriers of reality. But what lies beyond the veil is not epiphany, but chaos. Now Grant and his team are lost, living ghosts shipwrecked on an infinite ocean of alien worlds, barreling through the long-forgotten, ancient, and unimaginable dark realms. The only way is forward. The only question is how far are they willing to go, and how much can they endure, to get home again?
Rick Remender's script doesn't stop. From the first page, it's relentlessly pushing ahead. The story starts in the middle of things, with a man running from colorful alien creatures in a futuristic time on another world. It's a great action set piece, sprinkled with enough exposition spread out over the course of the book to draw you in without confusing you with overwhelming narration. It reminds me of Chuck Dixon's style. Let the action tell the story. Don't let the characters stop to explain themselves -- let them show it in their action, and don't let that action stop. Also, don't let there be boring pages when a colorful action bit can do. These are, after all, comics. Let's make them interesting to look at.
It uses the classic writer's device of the ticking clock. McKay is in a race against time to get back to his crew with the one ingredient that will save their lives and keep the plot churning along. Along the way, he purposefully slows himself down once for the sake of another life form, but otherwise runs like there's no tomorrow. For him, there isn't.
Remender has a bigger story than what you see in just that first issue. The story jumps back and forth between the current adventure and the past in a way that ties threads together in interesting ways. This is an ensemble piece filled with interesting characters, even if we barely know them at this point. Remender is structuring the stories, it seems, to help spotlight them in turn. It feels, in some ways, a little bit like "Lost" in its story structure. Don't worry, though, the series isn't trading in on its mysteries. It relies on the strange worlds, the action, and the characters to bring you back for more.
The best part of this is that when the story arc is complete, we'll be able to go back to reread the whole thing and pick up new connections and meanings we likely missed the first time.
"Black Science" adds another, slightly more subtle, level on top of that. Remender's scripts frame Grant McKay as an anarchist with definite world views that add to the book in a different direction than what you might have seen from other scientists in comics whose devices have gone haywire.
Matteo Scalera is an amazing artist who is capable of pulling off all of these wild creatures and landscapes in a convincing way. From fighting frogs to Native American robots, Nazis to giant turtles, he has lots of interesting stuff to pull off on the page, and never fails. His scratchy ink line sculpts and defines his characters in a very stylized but believable way. I'm not sure why but it reminds me a bit of John Romita, Jr.'s stuff, if I needed to compare it another comic artist today.
He's got it all at the very base of it: great gestures, great body language, and a wide array of emotions. The pages look designed and not thrown together. The storytelling is easy to follow. There's nothing wrong here.
The creator on the team who threatens to steal the whole show, though, is Dean White. Credited for "painted art," the work he does on these pages sets the book off from every other comic on the stands today. It's a glorious symphony of colors and textures. He adds to the artwork, never obscuring it by trying to show himself off. He's a valuable part of the creative team, not a cog in the assembly line. His work isn't just that extra layer in Photoshop because today's customers expect to see their comics with color in them.
There are a number of color artists today whose work you can pick out at first glance. White is in that elite group. How this level of work can be done on a monthly schedule is beyond me. I'm happy to have it, though.
White picks up Scalera's art when another colorist might be satisfied with a bucket fill and (maybe) a slight gradient. Backgrounds in this series, when not drawn in with black ink lines, are felt from their color tones. It'd be impossible to over-estimate White's contribution to the series' look. He defines it as much as Scalera, and it's great to see him get cover credit for that, too. It's well-deserved.
Finally, Rus Wooton handles the lettering with as much skill and finesse as the other 100 books he letters each month, but with its own style. This doesn't feel like "Invincible" or "The Walking Dead" at all. You'll recognize the balloons attached to the panel borders and knocking them out, perhaps, but the font choice, the thin sound effects, and general feel of the lettering stands on its own. His logo design on the cover is also nifty.
I can't think of another comic book series on the stands today that fires on every single cylinder as hard as "Black Science" does. I don't generally like writing universally positive reviews, but I can't pick this one apart. It's everything I want in a comic book -- great art and great writing on every level. If there are shortcuts made to get the book out on a monthly schedule, I haven't seen them yet. And I hope that if it comes to that, they let the book be a couple weeks late rather than skimp on some of the production values.
One last thing: Read the first issue. It's a test case for what the first issue of a series should be. It's exciting. It tells a complete story. It has a great hook. It explains its premise without bogging itself down into an origin story flashback show-stopper. And there's not a single page in the issue that doesn't have one panel that visually jumps out at you and reels you in even harder.
The book really does feel to me like a great European album series. The level of detail and attention paid to every page feels that strong. If this book does see print in an album kind of format eventually, I'm in.
- My secret to using Twitter is to deal with it in lists. Because I have a split personality and am just as likely to talk about comics there as photography or a couple of different programming languages, I don't like to read everything jumbled into one stream. I split things up a bit. In the wake of Angouleme, I created a new Twitter list called "French Comics." It's still new and it's limited at this point to French publishers, but I plan on expanding it out to some creators whose work I enjoy in the future, too. If nothing else, maybe I'll learn a few more French words in short bursts. The list is public for one and all to read, so feel free to peruse if you're interested in that kind of thing, too.
- Norman Reedus from "The Walking Dead" television series is also a bit of the photographer.
- Last week, I talked positively about "The Fuse," a new Image series written by Antony Johnston. This week, he depresses us with the realities of the Direct Market and its distribution curve.