Written by Mark Millar, Alan McKenzie, John Smith
Art by Rian Hughes
Published by Image Comics
“You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!” -Rod Serling
The above narration rang through the mind many times while reading “Tales From Beyond Science”, the new one-shot anthology graphic novel from Image Comics. While this comic definitely lacks the social and political commentary The Twilight Zone had, as well as its genuine horror and suspense, it is similar in other ways.
This is a comic presented as a time capsule, cleverly removed from space and time, a parody and homage to pulpy science fiction comics of decades past. It even neglects to tell us which writers penned which stories, which is a nice touch. The writing style is consistent throughout, the talents involved haven worked closely together to create a fluid story-of-stories. The eight tales are told by a Serling-esque narrator, Hilary Tremayne. And while Serling was ever the omniscient observer, thoughtfully warning his viewers of the horrors and mysteries being told, Tremayne is perhaps more sinister in intentions, implying to know more than he is willing to tell his audience. He knows precisely what to say as he tells his completely true non-fiction accounts of things that most definitely happened, without being too vague as to alienate or bore the reader, and to leave them wanting more.
There are dark forces at work manipulating the narratives, but the comic is primarily a dark comedy, weaving its surreal stories that mix the macabre with the silly. Outside of the eight stories, the comic features many pages of spoof comic cover mockups as well as fake advertisements, which are comical, bizarre, and sometimes just wrong.
The eight stories all have creative premises, and all work to varying degrees. The first, “Men in Red”, is a quiet introduction for a book such as this. Colonel Winks, former military man, comes into possession of super secret Pentagon knowledge that he was not meant to learn. Paranoia consumes him, as he fears for his life; maybe for good reason. “The Music Man” follows a struggling musician who suddenly hits a big break through fantastical means; this plays out very much like a Twilight Zone episode, all the way to its cruelly moralistic ending. In “Long Distance Calls”, the creator of the radio tries to invent a device that will allow him to speak to the dead. Fourth is “Agents of Mu-Mu”, about a world explorer who discovers locations no mere mortal can process. In “The Eyes of Edwin Spendlove”, perhaps the comic’s most absurd tale, we discover why men have nipples. “Secrets of the Organism” is one for the cinephile, in its depiction of long-dead film stars who have been cloned and brought back to attend a secret party, as Cecil D. DeMille films it all. “The Secret Month Under the Stairs” is the creepiest tale, a story about the forgotten 13th month that is locked away in a glass jar, a premise that would have fit in well with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”. And the last of the eight stories is “Perambulate Through Peculiar Places”, which is about the life and death of outer space.
The artwork could not be more appropriate. Rian Hughes is the star talent behind this book; his drawings stand apart from the styles of today, and further present this comic as being stylistically timeless, intentionally removed from any specific era. The diverse panel arrangements and solid colours lean towards the modern, while the thick outer lines and character designs are more inspired by classic comic eras. Everything meshes, making this one very attractive and fascinating looking book.
“Tales From Beyond Science” is an oddity from cover to cover, and is an acquired taste to say the least. Those with strong interests in pulp, retro storytelling, as well as science fiction and horror and b-movies from many decades ago will likely find this comic to be endearing, funny and consistently entertaining.