Review: Nowhere Men, Volume 1: Fates Worse Than Death

by Andy Wolverton

Nowhere Men, Volume One: Fates Worse Than Death, by Eric Stephenson and Nate Bellegarde (Image Comics)

Interviewer: “If science is the new rock and roll, then what’s the new science?”

Thomas Walker: “Oh, that’s simple. Understanding.”

Thomas Walker’s answer to the interviewer’s question may be simple, but the process involved in gaining that understanding is not. Walker, a theoretical physicist, is one of four science superstars in Nowhere Men, Vol. One: Fates Worse Then Death (collecting issues #1-6), which also includes neuroscientist Dade Ellis, geneticist Simon Grimshaw, and designer/inventor Emerson Strange. These four young men burst onto the scene with World Corp., a company seeking simply to make the world a better place through science.  Does it really matter that World Corp. is creating breakthrough innovations so quickly that most people can’t even begin to grasp what they’re doing? So what if people don’t understand NowhereMen1the details? New science is exciting and excitement is contagious. And let’s not forget, these guys are ultra-cool, superstars.

The brash, confident story of the “fab four” lasts only a few pages, jumping ahead several years to the present, when three of the four — one having already abandoned the group — can barely stomach being in the same room together. Among their disputes is what to do about a large-scale secret experiment that’s gone horribly wrong, placing several scientists, and possibly the world, in danger.

Nowhere Men clearly invites comparisons to the Beatles, not only in its title, but also by using four charismatic characters, snatches from Beatle lyrics (including the first line of the book, “Let me tell you how it will be,” from “Taxman”), and magazine articles/ad campaigns reminiscent of Beatlemania in its latter stages. Yet the connections are neither overdone nor manipulative. Image publisher Eric Stephenson is not simply asking, “What if four guys could change science in the same way the Beatles changed music?”, although that’s certainly a part of the allure of Nowhere Men. The Beatles did change music and popular culture, but what if the same thing did happen with four scientists? We’re now talking potentially greater consequences on a global scale. Four guys who can’t get along in a band is one thing, but when you’ve got four guys changing the scientific structure of the world (and possibly the cosmos) who can’t get along, look out.

Taken as a single component, the architecture of world-building in Nowhere Men is astounding. Stephenson has created a panorama of people and inventions (many are only touched on in this volume) that are intricately linked, giving the reader a taste of what he’s trying to construct. In the middle of the book, we have one of several pages from various magazines and journals, this one a 30th annual readers’ poll from The Science Chronicle, which lists a staggering number of people and inventions, most of which are unfamiliar to the reader. By the end of this first volume, we’ll recognize some of them, some will be hinted at, with many still unknown. If Stephenson develops even half of these characters and inventions, we’re in for an epic — and I do not use the word lightly — story.

Yet the world-building by itself is only one aspect of Nowhere Men’s appeal. Stephenson’s pacing, combined with non-linear storytelling, pulls you in and keeps you guessing. But unlike many other writers who attempt such devices, Stephenson doesn’t leave you frustrated. I think that’s part of the genius of the similarity of the Beatles’ story: even the most casual fan knows that John, Paul, George, and Ringo eventually went their own separate ways NowhereMenInsidebut may not know exactly why or how it occurred. We’re familiar enough with the concept of a supergroup falling apart that we understand how it could happen, even though we don’t know all the details. And even the most rabid Beatles fan must sometimes wonder, “Is there something we haven’t been told?”

Most of the Nate Bellegarde (Brit, Invincible, Hack/Slash) artwork is understated when the text is heavy, giving us uncluttered and often simple backgrounds, showing the cold isolation the four main characters have become accustomed to and allowing us to focus on their facial expressions. Since we see them through the telescope of several years/decades, this attention to visual character detail is essential. Yet in the more action-packed weird science scenes that are lighter on text, Bellegarde pulls out all the stops with a wonderful strangeness that jumps off the page. Nowhere Men does an exceptional job of balancing conceptual ideas and crazy action, thanks largely to Bellegarde.

By the end of this first volume of Nowhere Men, we’ve gained at least some level of understanding, not only of the story and its characters, but how the best of intentions, combined with exceptionally talented people, can often lead to horrifying consequences. We don’t have all the answers, not yet, but what a ride Stephenson and Bellegarde have taken us on.

Perhaps Nowhere Men hasn’t yet gained the following of other recent Image titles — The Manhattan Projects, Fatale, and Saga, to name a few — due to the interruption of the flow that comes from reading it monthly. Reading the first six issues collected in this trade, however, makes for a much smoother experience, and at $9.99, picking it up is a no-brainer. Don’t be surprised to find Nowhere Men on many Best of 2013 lists. It’s certainly on mine.

Rated T+/TEEN PLUS

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