A tale of endangered reality and troubled humanity.
You know when you pick a book up at a store, put it back down, and then repeat that process during multiple shopping trips? Sometimes it takes a while before you actually read something that’s been catching your eye. That’s how my relationship with Black Science began–I would flip through trades frequently, but never quite feel interested enough to commit. I finally gave the series a chance this week with the release of Black Science Premiere Vol. 1: Remastered Edition. This hardcover collection reprints the comic’s first sixteen issues, which is surely enough to form a solid impression, right? So, the question is: was Black Science worth the try? Is it good?
I’ve read a lot of comics. Some of them have been great, some have just been good, and some have been bad. With that said, not many of them have been so terrible (and not in a “so bad it’s good” way) that I regretted my time spent reading them. Black Science is one of those rare exceptions where I wish I could get my time back. This volume is terrible. Just terrible.
I’ll start by addressing the series’ title and premise. Black Science. I was expecting a fun sci-fi ride, perhaps with a tinge of mysticism. What I got was a convoluted time-travel story with none of the charm that makes science-fiction and fantasy so endearing. The protagonists use a teleportation device called a Pillar to traverse different times and dimensions, none of which are pleasing to read about. The various worlds presented are well-illustrated, but they lack any sense of depth or uniqueness.
This series’ approach to sci-fi can be well summed up by a minor character who appears in the first issue: a near-naked fish-woman forced into bondage. Black Science is full of tired sci-fi tropes (i.e. the sexy alien girl), with occasional lazy twists. There are multiple alien races in this book’s nearly 500 pages, but I can’t remember the name of a single one of them. None of the aliens are ever fleshed out to have poignant motivations, nor are any of their designs awesome enough to make up for their lack of depth.
Sadly, this lack of depth extends to the series’ main characters. There isn’t a single likable person in the core cast. One of the worst is easily the central character, Grant. Grant is an overworked scientist who, after years spent neglecting his family in favor of science, realizes his mistakes once it’s almost too late. This neglect includes a cheating subplot, as Grant has an intimate relationship with his co-worker Rebecca. This subplot results in plenty of cringe-worthy altercations between Rebecca and Grant’s children, who can’t stand her guts. Another member of the core cast, Kadir, jumps back and forth between being a protagonist and being an antagonist. This might sound like a recipe for moral complexity, but in reality it just makes Grant all the less compelling. When the main character is every bit as unlikable as the villain, it’s difficult to feel invested in either one.
With that said, the worst character in this volume is a Native American only referred to as the Shaman. The Shaman is forced to join the main cast against his will, but he cooperates with them with almost no sense of tension whatsoever. His amicable relationship with the other characters is never explained, and readers are left to assume that matters smoothed out during one of the series’ several time-skips. Besides the questionable nature of his name (or lack thereof) and his relationships with the rest of the cast, the Shaman is also disappointing because of his ultimate narrative purpose. After joining the main group in an unconvincing manner, the Shaman magically cures another character of their diabetes. This way, the diabetic character doesn’t have to die due to a lack of insulin. I’m not complaining because I wanted the character to die, but the magical healing just seems like lazy writing.
It’s worth noting that when I mention a character by name, I’m not ctually talking about one single character. I’m talking about all the different versions of that character who pop up across multiple dimensions and time periods. I don’t distinguish between different iterations of characters, however, because none of them are particularly distinct from one another. This is thanks largely to the narrative incoherence caused by the constant time-skips and poor pacing. The story frequently shifts forward considerably, and it fails to smoothly address lingering plot points when it does so. There are times when it becomes difficult to tell which version of a character is which, and the story isn’t riveting enough to make time spent guessing worth it.
Plentiful cons aside, there is one aspect of this volume that consistently impresses: its visuals. Artist Matteo Scalera has a charming style, and he delivers excellent attention to detail. The various worlds the characters visit are full of lovely foliage and moody architecture. The page compositions are also frequently strong, and the visual flow of movement from panel to panel is solid even if the actual writing’s pacing isn’t. I also have to give props to the series’ colorists: Dean White, Michael Spicer, Moreno Dinisio. Each of them mixes bright, fun colors with darker shades, giving the book senses of both classic sci-fi and mortal peril. Letterer Rus Wooton also does a great job in this volume.
There are also some scenes in this volume that are well-written. Rick Remender tends to deliver the best dialogue and character moments in flashbacks and other brief cutaways. The best of these scenes depicts Grant convincing his friend Shawn to drop out of college and join him in his scientific research. Such moments of characters just talking to each other without the sky falling down upon them are nice, but sadly far between. They also lack much connection to the actual main narrative. Most of the flashback scenes start and stop almost randomly, and the glimpses of character depths they add are never further developed upon. As a result, these scenes are like stranded islands of quality in an ocean of overly dramatic and cliched plotlines.
Overall, Black Science Premiere Vol. 1: Remastered Edition fails on almost every level. The characters are cliched tropes and almost indistinguishable from one another; none of the protagonists or villains are likable. The premise isn’t much more interesting, and the series makes sci-fi more intolerable than fun. Poor pacing and narrative structure only exacerbate these problems. The art direction is impressive, but that’s almost the only good thing to say here. This volume is just terrible, and its story falls apart on all fronts.