Thee Comic Column #102: Black Science Returns

BlackScience7coverUnbelievable that I have not yet addressed this book in these pages, especially since Rick Remender has grown to be pretty much my favorite non-Grant Morrison writer over the last two years. All his books – whether for Marvel or his creator-owned stuff Image is currently putting out by the truckload (Yay!) – are fantastic; Mr. Remender treats iconic, cannon characters like Wolverine, Rogue, Janet Pym and Thor with not only the utmost respect but also the restraint of a Claremont; the cash cows don’t need to be the focal point of every story in a team book. He also has that je ne sais quoi that Morrison has, the one that enables him to construct fresh and intriguing approaches to otherwise vapid characters. He’s done this numerous times, whether it’s using X23 and the *ahem* female Ghostrider from a few years ago – quite effectively I might add – in a Venom storyline; making Wonderman a part of the Uncanny Avengers Unity squad or resurrecting that godawful Onslaught visage from one of the worst late 90s X-Men storylines for the upcoming AXIS event, Rick Remender has proven he has the chops to deconstruct possibly any character, examine what makes them tick (or not tick) and then put them back together inside the multi-faceted embrace of a fantastic story, ready to do their part and help carry the weight of some of the most involved and epic storytelling to grace superhero books in decades. Conversely, when we look at the man’s creator-owned series we find that there are no weak links, and it’s here that RR doesn’t have to challenge himself to update or bolster weak characters. No, in Deadly Class, Low and Black Science Mr. Remender just has to tell an outstanding story. And frankly, that is exactly what he does. Every time. Especially in Black Science.

Black Science is, at its core, a family drama. Anarchist Scientist Grant McKay and his children end up on the run from parallel dimension to parallel dimension after one of McKay’s financial backers decides to sabotage his greatest invention, the Pillar. The Pillar is a device that essentially acts as a channel changer for McKay’s little cabal of Dimensionauts – it grants the users access to “The Onion – layer after layer of parallel dimensions…”. Each layer of course holds infinite possible dimensions based on each and every little decision made, never-ending off-shoot universes that McKay theorizes will hold everything from the cure for cancer to technology the likes of which we’ve never even dreamed of in our world. And he’s right – the first six issue arc of Black Science sees McKay, his eighteen-year old daughter, his pre-teen son, his lab partner – who also happens to be his mistress (again, family drama) – and several other key members of his team bouncing from one bizarre world to another. Frog men, fish woman, alternate timeline Native Americans with anime-style tech suits; each issue gets more and more bizarre – and we’re talking Clark Ashton Smith bizarre – not to mention more and more desperate, as people die in terrible ways and tensions escalate to nearly unbearable levels.

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And it’s there, in the relationships of the characters that Black Science has its strongest moments. Sure, the way Rick Remender kind of single-handedly reinvigorated hardcore Sci Fi as a popular genre for comics says you might come for the oddities* – all beautifully rendered and paced into visual magnificence by artists Matteo Scalera and Dean White – but its the tense, love/hate dynamics between the characters that will get you to come back again and again with the kind of fervor that gets the blood pumping. When Grant’s daughter and his mistress Rebecca interact they do so with bales of nuanced emotion behind every word – Pia knows about her father’s indiscretions and she knows that the real impetus for his work isn’t nearly as altruistic as he himself believes it to be. And Grant himself is a marvelously complex character; he spends as much time cursing himself for his mistakes and weaknesses as he does defending his actions, all the while only ever making everything worse, trapped in a cycle of behavior that alienates those closest to him and acts as ammunition for those looking to exploit or undo everything he has worked so hard to achieve. What’s more, Grant has a killer level of self awareness for a comic book character (many of RR’s characters do – check out his takes on Wolverine, Alex Summers or Steve Rogers in current arcs of Uncanny Avengers and Captain America) and that means he is aware that he creates 90% of his problems. He just doesn’t really want to stop.

That level of craftsmanship is just the beginning with Black Science, which as the title of this piece exclaims is two issues into its return from a brief hiatus following the end of the book’s first arc. And things have gotten INSANE, so if anything I’ve discussed above has you interested, run out and grab the first trade, which is a mere $9.99 for such a great story. I’m fairly certain you’ll wolf it down in an hour and run right back out for those two newest issues. And issue #8 is coming at the beginning of October, so you’ll have some momentum built up. It’s that good.

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* Some would argue Brian Wood and Fiona Staples’ SAGA has done that, and it has definitely been one of the driving forces behind this rebirth of 70’s-ish, non-Tolkien Fantasy/Sci Fi that is currently all over the shelves at the moment, however I’d have to say Remender’s F.E.A.R. Agent is the cornerstone of the movement. But yes, SAGA is amazing and it’s practically a household name by this point. Hell, I hear Lying Cat is even getting a daytime talk show opposite Ellen. Let’s hope there’s no dancing.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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