Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Black Science #1. Written by Rick Remender (Uncanny X-Force, Captain America) and drawn by Matteo Scalera (Secret Avengers, Indestructible Hulk) and Dean White (Uncanny X-Force, Captain America), this Image Comics debut is an incredible first issue that spotlights the immense imagination of its creative team.
Rick Remender has an addiction. In his personal essay at the end of his new Image Comics debut, Black Science #1, he writes about the high he felt when he created his first original comic book, comparing it to “the sensation heroin addicts describe the first time they shoot up.” He left behind a job as a feature-film animator to pursue the far less financially lucrative career of independent comic-book creator, writing or drawing more than 20 different titles between 1997 and 2009, and sacrificing his house, dog, girlfriend, and car in the process. In the last four years, he’s left behind creator-owned material for superhero comics, bringing his perspective to books like Punisher—where he turned the antihero into Frankenstein’s monster for the phenomenal “Franken-Castle” arc—and the modern mutant classic Uncanny X-Force, a brilliant exploration of the moral implications of superhero violence starring the X-Men’s covert hit-squad.
Remender currently writes two comics that debuted as part of the Marvel Now! publishing initiative: Uncanny Avengers, a team book starring members of both the X-Men and Avengers, and Captain America, which relocated the title character to an alien dimension for 10 issues of pulp science-fiction-inspired action. (Cap has since returned home for a more traditional superhero story pitting him against the insanely patriotic war machine Nuke.) That initial Captain America story showed Remender stretching the muscles he regularly utilized on his creator-owned series Fear Agent, which he wrote from 2005 to 2011 for Image and Dark Horse Comics, serving as a warm-up to the pulp sci-fi sprint that is Black Science.
The new ongoing Image series reunites Remender with former collaborators Matteo Scalera on artwork, Dean White on painted art (colors), and Rus Wooton on letters. Black Science #1 is a stunning showcase of the creative synergy Remender has cultivated with each of these artists. More importantly, it gives him the opportunity to feed that addiction for creating original material without any sort of editorial restriction. Remender’s superhero writing has been some of the most imaginative at Marvel over the past five years, but it can’t touch the originality of this first issue, a constant stream of big ideas that sets up infinite possibilities for the future of the series. The plot is relatively straightforward—a scientist must make his way across treacherous alien territory to save his colleagues and family from imminent death—but the world-building skills on display make it a particularly captivating read.
Remender has become exceptionally skilled at providing hefty amounts of exposition through narration that is paired with action sequences to keep his scripts moving at a brisk pace. As lead character Grant McKay makes his way past increasingly dangerous obstacles, his internal narration details the events that led to his current predicament, breaking down his initial hopes and the fears that have consumed him as those hopes became warped by reality. The narration clues readers in to Grant’s current family situation and his addiction to breaking the rules, from cheating on his wife to his ongoing exploration of black science despite the urging of others to give up on his dangerous research. He couldn’t stop and now he stands to lose everything, beginning with the death of his fellow crew member Jen, who is killed early in the issue when a rock thrown by a yellow fish-man smashes into her helmet and turns her face into “a mist of red, frozen in time.”
Those pieces of exposition introduce plenty of storytelling avenues for Remender to explore down the line, but that inner monologue isn’t the main appeal of this title. The allure of Black Science #1 lies in the exhilarating action that unfolds over its 29 pages, exquisitely brought to life by Scalera and White’s immersive artwork. Scalera’s lines have a smooth, animated quality that creates an incredibly fluid sense of motion on the page, with slightly exaggerated body language and facial expressions that intensify the characters’ reactions to their situations. There’s a palpable sense of terror and desperation as Grant finds himself cornered by fish-warriors at the start of the issue, emotions that transform into anger and forced bravado when he begins to fight back. (A highlight of this issue is when Grant removes the electrically charged head of a frog-warrior and uses it as a weapon, fighting off enemies with the beast’s lightning tongue.)
The design skill here is truly spectacular, inhabiting the middle ground between the extremely atmospheric work of Mike Mignola (the humanoid fish and frog creatures have a distinctly Hellboy feel) and the meticulously detailed widescreen visuals of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force collaborator Jerome Opeña. Scalera is paired with Opeña’s X-Force colorist Dean White, who adds immense texture and depth to his art. Colorists are generally underappreciated in the comic-book industry, but White has become an instrumental force in elevating the work of his artistic collaborators. Black Science opens with a simple splash page of lightning striking the ground, but the neon-pink hue of the lightning bolt immediately establishes that this is an alien environment. White’s use of unnatural hues accentuates the otherworldliness of the setting, which is populated by bright yellow and blue anthropomorphic fish and frogs, respectively, and those colors pop even more when outlined with the white line that has become White’s signature touch.
Remender, Scalera, and White create a world full of mysteries that are barely explored in this first issue, throwing readers headfirst into a fantastic environment that could easily serve as the setting for an entire series. This debut chapter ends with Grant and his team finding themselves in a new location that poses a whole new set of questions, building even more of the wild momentum that makes this story such an invigorating introduction. If one issue can have this many exciting ideas, it suggests extraordinary things for the future of the series, and if these are the fruits of Remender’s addiction, here’s hoping he never stops tapping that creative vein.