Usually I can tell if I’m going to enjoy a comic book series by the end of the first issue. Black Science is an exception to that. I actually felt the first issue was pretty mediocre (which was a disappointment to me because I’m a big fan of writer Rick Remender). However, with last week’s NYCC sale on the majority of Image Comics’ catalog, I gave the series a second chance. I’m glad I did.
Black Science follows Grant McKay and his team of Dimensionauts, which accidentally includes Grant’s kids. The first issue actually joins the action in media res as Grant and one of his colleagues, Jen, rush through a prehistoric forest, chased by fish monsters riding giant eels.
They come to a cliff face and realize they have to turn and face the monsters. And this is where artist Mateo Scalera really first shows us the scope of the story.
In the midst of the action, we get Grant’s narration about making mistakes, and about how he should have learned from them. He also worries for his kids’ safety and “the Pillar”- which we learn shortly is the crux of the series- getting coolant. The fish people brutally murder Jen, and Grant races against time to make her death matter and save his family and team. It’s definitely problematic that the first female character we meet in the series is immediately fridged, but Remender is able to keep it from becoming cliche.
Grant comes across other natives, frog-men who carry electric eel-like bioelectric charges. After a couple brief skirmishes, Grant finds himself in the throne room of the frogmen, where a fish-woman is being forced to dance. Grant inserts himself into the situation, and rescues to fish-woman, while snagging a pitcher of fresh water to use as coolant for the Pillar.
By the way, the weapon McKay is holding there? The head of one of the frogmen, still carrying its bioelectric charge. Grant escapes the castle and finds himself directly in front of a group of the fishmen. Including, apparently, the slave-woman’s mate.
In gratitude, the fishmen hold off the frogmen so Grant can escape.
He makes it back to his team just in time to add the water to the Pillar, inspect his damaged invention (which he concludes was sabotaged) and inform the team of Jen’s death before they jump home. Or so they think.
Nope... they’re not in Kansas any more.
And that just covers the first issue.
On first read, it was a rousing action adventure tale, but it didn’t really grab me. Scalera drew a great alien world, and the character/monster designs were fantastic, but the writing didn’t grab me like Remender’s work normally did.
Then we hit the second issue. The first issue was a action movie. The second slows down a TEENY bit and starts building the characters, the backstory and the universe. We learn that the Pillar is a trans-universal portal which McKay and his team developed to travel through the multiverse, which Remender calls the Onion.
Seriously, I regret dismissing it the first time I read it. If I didn’t give it a second chance, I would have really missed out on an engaging science fantasy adventure. McKay is an interesting protagonist who gets more interesting as the first volume goes on, and there are several mysteries set up and paid off.
And I say science fantasy because the science is never explained. The Pillar is called black science, but it’s never given an explanation in volume 1 how it works or why. I wouldn’t let that stop you though. It’s a blast to read, and even though it takes more time in later issues to build its characters, it never slows down. The first six issues are one continuous action sequence. Even the single issue the team gets to rest turns into a car chase on a very alien Earth.
Even though the series explores alternate Earths, don’t expect something like the cult classic TV series Sliders or Marvel’s Exiles comic series. The Earths the Dimensionauts find themselves travelling through on their way through the Onion are alien worlds, with the only recognizable element being human beings (if they’re lucky).
This series comes highly recommended. After I finished reading issue #6, I immediately bought the next 7 issues because I had to know what happened next.
Next time you want to give something new a try, pick up Black Science. It’ll be worth the time and money.