by Derek Royal
Black Science, Vol. 1: How to Fall Forever – Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, and Dean White (Image Comics)
Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of Rick Remender. In addition to his current (and prolific) work for Marvel — Captain America, Uncanny Avengers, and Winter Soldier: The Bitter March — he’s been churning out new creator-owned projects through Image Comics, such as Deadly Class and the upcoming Low. One of those Image books, Black Science, has just come out in trade and is turning out to be one of the most promising titles from the publisher. This first volume, How to Fall Forever, collects issues #1-6 in the ongoing series, and it effectively sets up the premise without teasing or overly decompressing the action. Indeed, in this first narrative arc we get alien chase scenes, dimension hopping, time-traveling doppelgängers, futuristic technology-wielding Native Americans, jealous and conniving colleagues, apes animated by sentient gaseous life forms, complicated family drama, sci-fi shamans, and adulterous affairs among fellow scientists. But the wellspring of all this action is the Pillar, a machine that carries the title’s scientific adventurers between realities and dropping them into scenarios beyond imagination.
Black Science is a lot like The Swiss Family Robinson or Lost in Space (itself, of course, an adaptation of Wyss’s novel), except instead of sailing across seas or journeying between planetary systems, the protagonists in this narrative travel within a multiverse. Plus, there’s more sex than you’ll with either Robinson family. Black Science centers on the inadvertent adventures of Grant McKay and his family, both personal and professional. He, along with his two children, his lover (another scientist), and a team of other “dimensionauts,” as they call themselves, travel between worlds through the use of a dimension-warping device. They call it “the Pillar,” and it allows them to move through the various layers of reality. The problem is that the Pillar has been sabotaged, and by one of their own, no less — again, à la Lost in Space. As a result, they have no control over when and where they are transported.
There are two key scenes in this first volume that set the theoretical context of this narrative world. The first appears in the third chapter (or what was issue #3) when we get a flashback to the moments leading up to the group’s first interdimensional teleportation. In this scene, Grant takes his children, Pia and Nathan, to see the device that he has been working on for the past decade, the Pillar. He tells his kids that the machine will allow them to move among the many layers of reality, and then likens those layers to an onion, which he calls “the building block of infinology.” He explains that this is “the theory that anything you can imagine exists in some layer of the eververse,” and that each layer represents an immeasurable number of realities that, together, constitute every possible choice made in the universe. “Once we map [the layers of the onion],” he tells them, “we can find the solution to every problem mankind faces.” In addition to using this technology for worldwide problem-solving, there is also the thrill that every adventurer harbors: a journey into the heart of the unknown. The “core” of this onion, according to Grant’s theory, is the first dimension, “the first life that made the first decision that then broke off into other dimensions.” It’s not really “God,” he explains to his kids, but “it’s the closest thing to it.” In this condensed two-page exchange, Remender and Scalera not only lay out the series’ premise, but they also weave in an über-quest that we can anticipate paying off in the end.
The other key scene occurs in the fifth section (issue #5), when an other-dimensional version of Grant and his wife come to “rescue” Nathan and Pia. In attempting to do so, they explain to the “current” Grant that his constant layer hopping is rending the universe, that “each time you jump you punch a hold through the fabric of reality — you put the entire eververse in danger.” Here, the writers pull from a fairly common sci-fi concept, much as you would find with warp speed in Star Trek or time travel in Doctor Who: fantastic travel comes at a potentially high cost. Again, Remender and Scalera are making a rich narrative investment, and we are sure to see the consequences of Grant’s actions as the series unfolds.
Yet, Grant isn’t just your run-of-the-mill researcher/adventurer. He is the leader of the Anarchist League of Scientists, a group of brainiacs who buck the system and play by their own rules, delving into forbidden research, the titular “black science,” that could get them, their employers, and all of reality into hot water. His boss, Kadir, is a fellow scientist who, at least in this volume, is a tough nut to crack. He is charged with overseeing and reining in Grant and his fellow dimensionauts, but his motives are an ambiguous mix: loyalty, jealousy, protectiveness, vengeance, diplomacy, and sheer self-preservation. Plus, Grant suspects him of being the group’s saboteur. By the end of this first installment, we’re not entirely sure how to read him — he is definitely not a two-dimensional Zachary Smith — and such ambiguity adds to the impact of this series.
In fact, Grant, himself, isn’t an easy protagonist to digest. He is a rebel who bucks the system, all in the name of scientific progress, but he’s also an ambitious and selfish researcher constantly dragging his children, along with his adulterous lover, into dangerous terrain. We root for him, sure, but at the same time we question his judgment and wonder about his motivations. In this way Remender and company give us not a space adventure, not a sci-fi soap opera, but more of a naturalist theater of multi-dimensional proportions. If you like your science fiction “hard,” and you appreciate a bit of the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, then Black Science is the series for you. And if you haven’t jumped on the monthly installments, then this first trade volume, How to Fall Forever, is the perfect place to start.
Get your copy of Black Science, Vol 1, as well as other works from Remender, Scalera, and White: