Black Science: How to Fall Forever
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Published by Image Comics
Black Science is the comic book that got me back into reading comic books. I’d stopped reading for a few years and was only reading Walking Dead when I saw the first issue in my local comic book store. I love science-fiction, and the book looked fun. Well, it’s been bad for my bank account, but this comic book has been simply incredible. Black Science is what I wish Sliders had become, with a totally limitless imagination for different realities and just how alien everything can be. Beware: spoilers do lie ahead, and this is not a book that is kind to its characters.
Grant McKay is an anarchist scientist who has perfected a means of interdimensional travel: the pillar. Unfortunately, the machine was activated unexpectedly and took his team along with his children and their financier into a hostile reality. His team consists of himself, Kadir (the financier), Ward (security), Rebecca, Jen, Shawn, Chandra, and Pia and Nathan, his kids. The first world that they jump into is populated with hostile frog people, and the Pillar is sent without adequate coolant. Grant and one of his teammates run out to get more, and the teammate is killed as Grant narrowly escaped. He arrives and sees that the controls on the Pillar have been smashed, preventing them from going home or choosing how long their jumps are.
Their second world is even worse, an inverted world in which German soldiers are battling against Native Americans armed with futuristic weapons. Grant is badly wounded almost immediately and some of the team goes out to find a doctor. They find a shaman with incredibly advanced healing gear who they kidnap, losing another teammate in the process, and only manage to jump out of the dimension by the skin of their teeth.
The third world is a bit cushier, and they spend a few days resting up and gathering badly-needed supplies. Even so, Grant from an alternate reality shows up and tries to kidnap Nathan and Pia, claiming that Grant in every reality he’s seen gets his kids killed. Prime Grant rescues them, but not before alternate Grant informs him that Kadir sabotaged the Pillar and sent them spinning all over reality. Once they land in an ice world populated by monkeys, Grant and Kadir begin fighting and fall into a chasm.
Grant and Kadir chase each other over this frightening place. Kadir sabotaged the Pillar because he had never actually thought the Pillar would succeed, and when it did, he was too frightened by the implication of a portal to every virus and weapon that could be dreamt up. In the midst of their fight, Grant is crushed beneath an enormous piece of machinery. Pinned and with a broken spine, Grant implores Kadir to carry on and keep his kids safe. Kadir barely makes it back in time to jump.
So that’s the first arc, having killed three different characters, including the character everybody thought was the main character. And Remender isn’t afraid to show us a nuanced character; Grant is a bit of a shit in this book. It’s pretty clear he’s neglected his children to the exclusion of his work (how the hell else did they end up in this if not for that), and he hasn’t really thought of the implications of what can do if something goes slightly wrong (which it does). Still, Remender doesn’t even hesitate in offing the guy, and we’re treated to a dying monologue as he contemplates his regrets with his wife, his children, and the way that his life turned out. It’s sad and poetic and all extremely compelling to read.
Indeed, this series is a difficult read because Remender seems to want to torture us. Characters are pushed far beyond their comfortable moral limitations early on; when Pia has to drown a wounded German soldier to stay hidden, it’s hard to watch. When people die, we get to listen to their dying thoughts. Based on this first arc, we’d better expect the body count to be high as times goes on. Shawn, being so cheerful and likeable, might as well have a target painted on his head, and when he meets his inevitable end, I’m still going to be saddened by it.
Scolera and White are great artists for this book, especially combined with Remender’s imagination. All of the alien architecture, flora and fauna is trippy to look at, as it should be. I loved Sliders, but the realities it dreamt up were within the realm of human experience. Everything in Black Science is so…alien. If you have the opportunity to examine infinite possibilities, it’s a waste not to use that. Here, you’ll see frogmen with biolelectric tongues, gaseous beings inhabiting monkey bodies, and Apaches wielding laser hatchets against Germans soldiers using bolt-action rifles.
It’s also nice to see a comic where characters really do get a lot of attention. Grant obviously gets a lot of attention, but Nathan and Pia have a complex and real relationship with their father. Kadir, who could be easily reduced to a villain caricature, is certainly flawed, but has his own complex motivations and is not just a bad guy. Shawn is funny, Ward is tough and straightforward, and Rebecca is trying to keep peace between herself, Pia, and Grant. Only Chandra hasn’t had much character development, but we’re still only six issues in. Yeah, most of these characters will bite the bullet, but when they do, there will actually be some gravitas.
The level of conflict between all of the characters is, for once, believable. Too many series let character bicker over the stupidest shit, which is the author’s way of forcing new drama on everybody when they’re between crises. When people fight in Black Science, it’s over things that people would quarrel over: sabotaging the pillar, infidelity, etc.
So where is this comic going to go? I have no clue. This book has a lot of places it can go, not only in exploring these new dimensions, but in adding new characters along the way (the Indian Shaman is one such character). I love the idea of characters from our dimension trying to find ways to communicate with someone so far outside their own experience. There are too many things that Remender could try and add to this book to list here. Get caught up on this book before Issue #7 comes out.