In the closing pages of Black Science #1, by writer Rick Remender, artist Matteo Scalera, and colorist Dean White, Remender makes clear his love of the “anything goes” variety of storytelling, where possibility and imagination is more important than probability and realism. And in that same issue, in which we were quickly brought up to speed about a group of anarchist scientists traveling through dimensions and trying to survive what they find there, Remender made his case for why we should love this kind of story as well. The laser-hatchet wielding Apaches and belly-dancing frogs didn’t get in the way of the fantastic sense of pacing and urgency, nor did it hinder the great cast of characters (one of my favorite things about the series is its ability to, through the use of unobtrusive flashbacks, make us care about characters who we’ve already seen die, like poor Jen who didn’t make it past the first issue). But somehow I was still worried.
While the series has been damn good fun right from the start, I feared this party bus would run out of gas eventually, that all these novel concepts would become stale, and that Remender, Scalera, and White would find a routine and get a little too comfortable.
Issue six has shown me just how wrong I was.
What makes this issue so special is that it that, while it certainly changes everything about the character dynamics going forward, it has all the same elements that made the series great to begin with. The newest dimension the team has been unlucky enough to grace with their presence is inhabited by hostile, ape-like beings possessed via inhalation by gas-like alien entities that come from plants. Think about that sentence I just wrote for a second. The creativity on display here remains impressive and all the weird just feels so natural here, no doubt thanks to Matteo Scalera’s art and Dean White’s coloring. These two are just as important to the book’s appeal as Remender – they’re a selling point all on their own.
The characters continue to surprise. The dual reveal at the end of the last issue that Kadir was the one who sabotaged the Pillar and that Grant had been having an affair with Rebecca (known to the reader but not to Grant’s kids) was well-handled here, and it was also nice to see Nathan McKay finally do something important after remaining static for most of the arc. Chandra’s possession by the alien gas and the Shaman swooping in at the last second to space-magic the hell out of one of the creatures shows promise. I hope to see this cast continually rotating in and out extra-dimension characters like them every once in a while to keep things fresh.
But the real kicker, the supposed game-changing event I keep alluding to, is the death of the McKay patriarch and team leader, Grant. The freaking main character (or so we thought) of the book is axed with such fearlessness it would make George R.R. Martin nod coldly in acknowledgement. This was a character, like Security Officer Ward before him, that was interesting and still had plenty of development left in him but was killed in a way some people might find unsatisfying (assuming it isn’t all a fluke).
And you know what? It was perfect. Why? Once again we find ourselves almost back to square one with no idea how the rest of this series will play out. Our flawed hero Grant had a clear motivation and character arc: protect the team, get the kids back to mom, make-up to his wife for being a shit husband. It was an arc I was certainly willing to follow, but it was a little predictable. But with his death…I’m clueless. And that’s a great feeling. It changes the balance of power in the group, sets-up Kadir, an almost out-and-out villain up to this point, as the new protagonist of the book (foolish as it may be to claim that this book has only one protagonist), and creates a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. If Grant’s not safe, then who is?
Black Science isn’t a one trick pony. It’s playing the long game, which is a little more challenging but ultimately far more rewarding. July can’t come soon enough.