A review of Charles Soule's new Archaia OGN.
The concept of a city as a living, breathing organism has been a running theme in more than a few comics over the years. James Robinson's Starman was as much about Opal City as it was Jack Knight and his supporting cast. Mega-City One's decline has been a running theme throughout decades of Judge Dredd comics. Harvey Pekar's work often uses Cleveland's history and character as a framing device for his own autobiographical work. Strange Attractors, the new Archaia OGN by Charles Soule and Greg Scott, takes a more direct approach, looking at both the character of New York City and exactly how such a large city thrives on a daily basis.
Strange Attractors stars Heller Wilson, a mathematics graduate student who stumbles across a perplexing anamoly while working on his doctoral thesis. In studying how cities recover from disasters, he learns that New York City has inexplicably recovered faster from crippling blows to its infrastructure than other cities. While researching what makes the city so resiliant, he stumbles across the work of Dr. Spencer Brownfield, a disgraced professor with far-fetched ideas about complexity theory. Brownfield believes that he's been assisting the city stay afloat for decades by completing seemingly random acts ranging from letting a rat loose in a diner to lining up trashcans so that garbage collectors can empty them quicker. Wilson and Brownfield begin an unlikely partnership with different goals in mind: Wilson is looking for a theory to complete his thesis and Brownfield is seeking a successor.
Soule masterfully weaves a complex and enjoyable story that not only fleshes out Wilson's character, but also the character and spirit of New York itself. Wilson's moods and struggles are directly mirrored by the city itself, with both Wilson and New York struggling to overcome a plethora of problems. As Wilson tries to juggle Brownfield's theories, his relationship with girlfriend Grace, and unhappiness about his own lot in life, the city is poised to collapse while dealing with tense negotiations with the police union, a heat wave and shadowy terrorists planning a devestating attack. While the book is labelled as science fiction, the characterization and realistic setting make Strange Attractors seem anything but.
The book also doubles as a love letter to the city of New York. Soule features a large range of slices of life in the book. From a picturesque look at Central Park to several scenes set in New York City's music scene (fitting as Soule is not only the writer of the music focused 27, but also a New York musician himself), Soule paints a loving portrait of the New York and makes even non-residents such as myself root for the city.
Greg Scott handles the art duties for Strange Attractors. His pencils are consistently strong and do a fantastic job of capturing full range of emotions for many of the characters, as well as adding an extra layer of life to New York. Scott's backgrounds in particular are gorgeous, detailed and precise without taking focus away from the action. Soule also conscripted the services of Robert Saywitz to provide several breathtaking "complexity maps" that really sell the marriage of chaos theory and cities. A four page fold out in the middle of the book is particularly stunning. The colors, provided by Art Lyon and Matthew Petz, are spot on as well. All in all, Strange Attractors puts up 138 pages of nearly flawless art, adding to the books enjoyability and rereadability.
Strange Attractors is a fun and thoughtful read, one that can be enjoyed by New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike. It's Soule's strongest work to date, and will probably wind up on many readers' top books of 2013. If you're looking for a comic that blends high concept sci-fi with relatable characters with real world conflicts and struggles, Strange Attractors is the book for you.