Another occasional series from us, where we recommend a comic book you probably aren’t reading, but should think about diving into. This time around Rob draws from his library to take a look at Image Comics’ Black Science…
Do you remember Sliders? That 90’s Sci-fi show with John Rhys-Davis and the guy from Piranha 3D? Basically it was a high-concept-of-the-week kind of affair, with the cast of characters jumping (‘sliding’, obvs.) to various parallel universes. It was kinda crappy to be fair, but the idea was sound, only hampered by its limited TV budgets. A few minutes thought about the nature of infinite other dimensions should lead you to realise literally anything could happen, however in Sliders, very little ever did, beyond an adventure to a world pretty much like ours, but where women dominated society, or everything was like a cheap Wild West, or they played this incomprehensible sportsball game.
So imagine if you will, a high concept as strong as Sliders, but with freedom to do absolutely anything with it, the sort of freedom only comic books can provide, and you have Black Science.
Written by Rick Remender, this series begins with the same basic premise as our naff 90’s show, combined with a visual style lifted from the 1950’s then turned up to 11. A scientist, Grant McKay, leads a team of friends (and frenemies) to test out The Pillar, a device of his own invention which will enable travel into parallel dimensions, for the purposes of scientific discovery and the betterment of mankind. Of course things go awry, and our heroes end up stuck leaping from universe to universe randomly, trying to find a way back to his own earth.
This could be the opening strap line to one of any number of TV crapfests, but after the initial pulp sci-fi setup is where things get interesting. For starters, the thing that will attract the reader upon turning the very first page is the stunning art by Matteo Scalera, not just for its own sake, but because it brings to life the myriad possibilities of travelling to alternate worlds, as in, it can look like any damn thing!
The very first world they visit is populated by Aztec Frog Men, riding Moray Eel steeds, and without giving the game away, that really is just the start. The art style might appear initially cartoonish and poppy, which some cute allusions to vintage Sci-fi, but its bright colours and vivid imagination hide a darker heart, especially when the heads start rolling, which is appropriate for this book.
Another way this tale strikes out on its own is in its relationship with the characters. Adam McKay ends up lost with not just his work colleagues but also his two children, a la Lost In Space, and in any other hands a certain style of storytelling might have then ensued, something schmaltzy perhaps, but Remender takes us in a different direction, one arguably very in keeping with tastes at the moment.
Basically when the story begins Grant McKay is something of a dick.
He’s arrogant, thoughtless and utterly blind to everything but his work, to the detriment of his wife and children. He’s not really evil, he’s just, as protagonists go, a dick. He’s kind of surrounded by them too. More than a couple of his fellow Dimensionauts have their own motives and insidious plots bubbling away, which end up making the team’s predicaments worse and worse as things wear on, until the crosses, double crosses and double-double crosses will make your head spin.
A series following entirely despicable characters might not make for the most gripping read though, you kind of need someone to root for, and Grant does give us that eventually. His first act epiphany, and subsequent quest for redemption in the eyes of his family, and himself, provide a compelling core to the story, driving us on as the stakes become higher and higher.
Probably my favourite aspect of Black Science however, is the dimensionauts meeting of many alternate versions of themselves, Particularly Grant and his Pillar (sometimes he might be some weird creature, but it’s still him.), leading to Terminator-level brain-bending paradoxes. Particularly intriguing being the recurrence of the ‘onion’ symbol in pretty much every reality.
In short, Black Science takes some fairly over used pulp sci-fi ingredients, but combines them with imagination and creativity, as well as highly modernist characterisation, to make something truly unique and well worth exploring.