December 19, 2013

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Real Science 1-2

Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Published by Image Comics

An arrogant man with an arrogant team delves into areas where man was not meant to venture, putting his family at risk and sending them hurtling across myriad worlds in this extremely pulpy science fiction adventure.

Rick Remender is a man who loves comics, and it shows in his work. The man who brought you FrankenCastle, working with Scalera and White, is co-creating a no holds barred, straight out of the 1970s Warren Publication, comic book. This one isn't trying to be modern at all, and that's part of the fun, but also a limitation.

Because of that choice, the first issue has a bit of a rough go in terms of the script (but the art, which I'll get to in a minute, more than makes up for the shortfall). Remender has his main character, Grant, monologue his way through some of the weirdest things you'll see in a comic this year, and unfortunately, it gets a bit boring, because it's clearly set-up material. The dialogue sections are great, but I think Remender did his readers a bit of a disservice in hewing just a bit too closely to the EC/Warren template. We are savvy enough to pick up on some of the things that Grant goes on about, especially his speech about breaking the rules. That's pretty much par for the course in a story like this one, and I think it would be a stronger story without it.

When we're interacting with others, Remender's dialogue sizzles. The reaction to the creatures or how screwed the team is because of a very human "error," feels nature and modern. When we move into the second issue, the discussion of their dilemma and the addition of Shawn's horrendous jokes greases the gears and makes the trope moments less noticeable. I especially love when Kadir (the project's funding arm) implies that Grant's lover Rebecca might have doomed them in an attempt to keep herself attached to him. The razor-edge art lines of Scalera work incredibly well here, as a dagger-faced set of characters shoot them at each other within their words.

They barely have time to argue, however, because soon the war they've bounced into is upon them, and in this one, Europe didn't get the upper hand on the Native Americans. Unfortunately, Grant and his team look a lot like the losing side, and they've only got a few hours to get help and be able to leave on time. The second issue ends on a strong cliffhanger, and I have high hopes for where Remender is going with this. His dialogue and pacing are extremely good here, and as long as he keeps from hitting too many familiar notes (bad time travel isn't exactly a new idea), this one should be a lot of fun to read.

I'm not going to try to determine the line between Scalera and White in terms of the art. White is quoted as doing the "painted art" and I could probably make guesses, but I think it's better to just talk about the art as a team. The thing that really pops out to me about it is the way it feels like something Bill Sienkiewicz might craft. In both issues, we open with a sparse splash page that radiates energy, power, and menace. Then we move into tight, close-up panels that either set the stage for terror (issue one) or flash back to why Grant damned them all (issue two). From there, the panels vary in their look and feel, with issue one seeming to have more of the painted influence, as Grant flees though the alien landscape.

Scalera's artwork, as I mentioned above, is extremely angular, which may not work for everyone. It's a distinctive look that I think is a bit less restrained here than on other occasions where I've seen him credited, because the pulpy, science fiction nature of the narrative lends itself to doing so. His figures tend to flatten out from time to time, looking more like geometric shapes than living, breaking characters, but because his layouts are fluid, moving across the page unless there is call to focus on a particular object (like Grant's lighter), it doesn't distract or take me out of the story. I do wish, however, that he'd done a bit more to make the male characters individualized. Any guy in a space suit has only their face to show us, and I mixed up Grant and Ward more than once.

Despite a few hiccups, I really did enjoy the art in Black Science, especially issue one. Scalera and White throw caution to the wind, using every color possible to create an alien landscape that feels as unreal as possible. Every splash page could be a 1970s book cover, with leering, menacing aliens and human in peril at their cruelty. The frog-things that command the planet are especially brutal--and electrifying, and the art team, regardless of who is taking the lead in the first issue really make you feel like you are somewhere we've never been before--and it's a place we were never meant to see.

Issue two is more down to earth, and I think there's less of White's influence on it. However, the coloring remains vivid, and best of all--the background colors are actually colors. No mess of browns and drabs here--we get oranges, blues, and purples. They're not garish like the 1950s, but seeing them really helps to give this series an old school feel, which helps set the tone.

Black Science is either going to be an amazing comic or one whose reach exceeded its grasp. A lot depends on how Remender treats his tropes and if Scalera and White can keep the high quality of the art together, making it look old-school instead of a modern take on a pulp fiction. Anyone who's a fan of the old non-code comics or the more recent Eerie/Creepy work from Dark Horse definitely should check this out. My Newsarama buddy Justin said this was unlike anything else on the shelves, and he's completely right. If that intrigues you, definitely have a look. I think you'll be pleased with what you find.