Science fiction comics don’t seem to be as big a sell as you would think, even though genre and medium seem a perfect match. Maybe it’s that the superhero genre cherry picks and co opts SF tropes so effectively that most ‘straight’ SF comics feel like old news?
Whatever. Here’s an SF comic that really works. Black Science, by Rick Remender and Mateo Scalera, has a singular vision, a modernised pulp SF that combines two-fisted science heroism, lost worlds, forbidden knowledge and a reality skipping macguffin, then filters it all through a visual sensibility akin to an exceptionally lurid prog album cover.
In a striking first issue we meet anarchist scientist and professional dickhead Grant McKay already out of his depth, lost in a world of barbarous frog people, and the series barely lets up from there, drip feeding in back story as the main plot rolls ever onward.
Remender and Scalera’s collective imagination deliver six issues of varied alien weirdness, with memorable imagery but a less sprawling story than, say, East of West. Where that book has a cast of hundreds, Remender keeps us close to McKay and the people he’s dragged into this world-hopping mess.
While the hard boiled cynicism of the narration and constant conflict between the leads could seem trite in a different series, here it works, that level of bleak ferocity fitting neatly into a story of constant crisis and threat.
Whether Black Science can maintain that intensity without getting wearisome is a question for volume 2, which I eagerly await.
OK, I’ve got a cold so this is going to be an even blurrier and less coherent ten minuter than usual.
The Fuse. the first two issues of which are out now from Image, is an SF police procedural comic set on a space station in the not terribly far future. Detective stories in fantasy or SF settings can be hard to do, as it can be difficult to rule any possibility out of the mystery if the rules of that imaginary world aren’t clear.
Writer Antony Johnston (Wasteland, lots of other things) solves this problem by presenting an utterly grounded future where we can be pretty certain from the off that teleports and psychic powers aren’t going to turn up.* The Fuse, a vast space station where humanity has colonised every open space between the working areas, feels like a real, practical place, with a society and problems that are its own but not unrelatable.
At the centre of the story are the two detectives, a white, slightly androgynous Russian woman who is the senior of the two and a black, German man who is a newbie to The Fuse. Although the latter, Dietrich, is our nominal viewpoint character both are intriguing and clearly have secrets, and their dynamic is vital to the appeal of the comic. Although Johnston has had this story in mind for long before the TV series The Bridge came along, there’s something of that show’s mismatched central partnership here, and a similar strong sense of place.
Justin Greenwood’s art is fantastic, with colours by Shari Chankhamma. The Fuse feels real and nuanced, and the characters are distinct and full of expression. You get where this fits on the genre spectrum with a glance at the page, which is vital for this kind of story.
In a golden age of Image launches this is one of the strongest.
* This is not a guarantee, so don’t complain to me if an esper teleports in on page 2 of #3.