Black Science: A Study in the Heart within Sci Fi
Sometimes a comic just grabs your attention because it’s doing everything you wish you could do. And instead of being jealous, you are just so happy someone else out there is on your wavelength and in a position to make it happen.
BLACK SCIENCE is a science fiction comic created by Matteo Scalera and Rick Remender, with colours by Dean White, letters by Rus Wooton, and edits by Sebastian Girner. I really dig it and you must check it out.
BLACK SCIENCE is interesting because it’s coming out now, the same time as DEADLY CLASS, another book by Rick Remender. Now I think I’d argue that DEADLY CLASS is the better book, maybe only just, and yet there’s no doubt to me that BLACK SCIENCE is the book that’s won the race to and for my heart. It feels like this science fiction titan is doing so many things right for me that it’s almost kind of gross how much I love it. Let’s break my desperate feelings down.
Science fiction. You know, I always thought I’d be a horror writer. I grew up on King and Barker and every single horror VHS you could care to name. It felt right that I’d go down that path and yet I’ve written very little horror in my time in the saddle. I seem to write a lot more science fiction. I blame old EC sci fi comics and Philip K Dick. BLACK SCIENCE hits the sweet spot somewhere between the two. Science fiction has such scope to do anything and be anything and take a million paths, through a billion solar systems and slivers of reality, to tell amazing stories about characters.
Because, and this is important, within BLACK SCIENCE beats the heart of a character study. This narrative is about people, not the awe inspiring electro-tongue frog-men or the gas possessed monkey-men inside the frozen volcano or the many other freaked out fantastic elements of the many places this cast go. No, this is a book about fatherhood (yep, always going to get my attention right there), and infidelity, and responsibility, and legacy.
At the start of this year, we were asked at the school I work at to discuss a book we had been reading over the holidays. After half the room talked about THE BOOK THIEF, and the other people rolled out their favourites, I dropped BLACK SCIENCE into the pile. I said it was this brilliant sci fi comic where a family and team of scientists tripped through realities trying to get home. I described the Aztek V WWI soldier reality and the bloody great helmeted travel suits they all wear. I then said the book was how I liked to be as a teacher because underneath all the hustle and dazzle the book wasn’t its stranger elements but rather it was its emotional core. But the bright colours and mashed up physiological concepts sure helped to get everyone’s attention.
This all made me realise how important character is. You need to give the reader a reason to care and in this book, Scalera and Remender plot out many reasons for us to become invested, and this counts across all of the cast. Many personal moments are found within these wild situations, seeing what Rebecca has to do to save her own life, and the lives of those around her, was a touching and brutal and superb moment of pitch perfect narrative meeting a moment from the heart. It showed the creative team cared about and knew t their core every single person on these pages.
The opening arc of this book, the first 6 issues, is out now and within it you’ll find moments and reasons to love and hate these characters. Sometimes both emotions for the same person. It’s an emotionally dense text that draws upon experience and fallibility. It’s a disturbing look at how we can all fail on the micro level and how that’s often more important than the larger stumbles we make in life.
There is no doubt Matteo Scalera is a master craftsman of the four colour page. His character designs and sharp and fun and varied on the most part – the daughter and the assistant look a little too similar but Grant McKay is an interesting lead because he’s not particularly good looking, or even noble. It’s nice to see for a change. Scalera’s designs of the many gonzo denizens and elements of this book are always on point. He populates worlds with strangeness and fantastic insanity so you believe anything can and will happen. But one specific thing he does captivates me each week.
Every issue opens with a splash. You could mostly call these non-diagetic splashes as they are primarily concerned with tone and theme and scope and they don’t always show a part of the narrative. A spark reaching down to the ground, an eye observing coldly, a wildly dense cityscape by a sea. These splashes show a commitment to making this book not simply just a narrative machine, this is a study of feeling and so moments should be taken to purely make us feel. These splashes also show that the team is happy to give an extra page in the month to just lay out something more for the fun and feel of it. I dig that Scalera and Remender are so into making this book that they’ll go that extra mile, they’ll let us all in on the emotional core of this beast because it’s that important to them, and so it must be that important to us, too.
BLACK SCIENCE has had a very strong opening arc start and I cannot wait to see what else comes in these pages. Science fiction and the black hearts of characters and sublime art, yeah, this book is pretty well perfect for me. It’s like seeing my id scooped out and smeared across the page with a masterful hand. It’s like finding exactly what I want and finding I like it more than I thought I would.