Black Science: Raiders of the Turtle Temple

This article was originally published at The Nerd Cave on December 3rd, 2013.
Turtle Temple

Black Science is a comic steeped in traditions of grand adventure and space odyssey, inspired, in equal parts, by Wally Wood and Steven Spielberg. Although the first issue marks the beginning of an ongoing series, it does not act solely as an introduction. Many recent Image debuts, like Manifest Destiny and Velvet, utilize their initial opening issue to explain the ongoing premise of the title. Although useful, it often slows the book down and fails to deliver on the full potential of their premises. This is not a problem with Black Science. It starts with two scientists being hunted by fish-men across turtle-temples and refuses to slow down… for the most part. It’s a colorful, imaginative romp that can be enjoyed without expository text boxes or subsequent issues.

Scientist - Wood Scientist - Scalera

Matteo Scalera and Dean White’s art is the true star of this book. It wears its influences plainly, evoking Wally Wood’s Weird Science with oversized space helmets and horrible aliens. The fantastical designs play directly to Scalera’s strengths, allowing him to exaggerate his figures and reshape the ordinary into the extraordinary. His embellishment of turtles, frogs, and fish allows for familiar anatomies to hold a reader’s gaze, transformed into something new. Unlike Wally Wood’s work though, this comic does not play with science fiction tropes. It is a story planted firmly in adventure.

This genre connection is not a bad thing. In fact it allows for a comparison to one of the greatest blockbusters in the history of cinema: Raiders of the Lost Ark. The opening of Raiders acts as a prologue to the movie itself, telling a complete story that establishes tone and character for the rest of the film. Beginning in dense jungles, it follows Indiana Jones through a temple raid and escape from hostile natives. All of this takes place without ever stopping to explain the character or mechanics of the world. The temple’s various traps are all explored visually and Indiana’s motives are revealed through sparse dialogue and action. It is a tremendous piece of Hollywood storytelling that takes place in ten minutes. Black Science accomplishes a similar feat with its first issue.

Running

Black Science, like Raiders, begins in media res relying on the action and visuals to provide any necessary exposition. Panels start focused on individuals and their immediate surroundings, providing just enough detail for readers to understand the scene, without providing an establishing shot. This is purposeful, allowing later frames to provide greater scope and reveal the fantastic elements of the story. In Raiders, the camera begins focused on Indiana and the jungle, but later reveals the temple entrance, trophy room, and rolling boulder to great effect. Scalera provides the same effect with his panels of turtle-temples and electric frog-soldiers. These illustrations rely on the momentum provided by smaller, less momentous panels though.

There is never a true resting moment within this comic. Grant McKay, the protagonist of Black Science plows through the pages, motivated by a literal ticking clock. Scalera provides a clear sense of his momentum on every page, using vanishing points and motion lines to evoke a sense of motion. Following that motion, the reader’s eye is guided quickly through the comic. Simple panel layouts allow for easy reading. If not for the quality of Scalera’s drawings, it would be easy to finish this issue in five minutes. White’s colors help a great deal with this effect as well. His neon blues and greens streak the page, shouting “Go!” like a stoplight whilst affecting an eerie tone.

Black Science’s momentum is what makes it an enjoyable read. It provides a weird, wonderful new world which reader’s ought to be propelled through like Space Mountain. This strength makes the issue’s flaws more prominent than they might have been in a comic with less quality art. Rick Remender’s narration runs throughout Black Science, slowing the story considerably, if the reader stops for every text box. 

Eel Riders

87 of the 120 panels in Black Science #1 contain at least one text box. The writing serves a variety of purposes, from explaining the Grant McKay’s motivation to the events occurring on the page, most of which is entirely unnecessary. When Grant is aided by fish-people for saving one of their mates, Scalera functionally illustrates the scene. However, Remender explains exactly what is occurring on the page as it actually happens. This sort of redundancy feels silly and distracts from the story like a stuttering speaker. Remender’s narration occasionally contributes insight into McKay, concerning his background and goals. These are largely unnecessary components to enjoying the comic though. At their best, the text boxes do not repeat what the reader already knows. Comics are primarily a visual medium, where writing can mean plotting as much as it means the actual creation of sentences. When words are used, they should strengthen the comic by working with the images on the page. Black Science fails to effectively fuse its words with the story told by its art.

That is not to say Black Science is a weak comic. Scalera and White’s art, aided by Remender’s ideas and plotting function to tell a thrilling story. The unnecessary exposition reflects a lack of confidence in both the art and reader’s visual literacy. Given the strong praise for this issue, it is likely that Remender will gain confidence in his vision and allow the comic to play to its strengths. The cliffhanger, positioning Grant McKay in front of another weird world, provides a new playground for Scalera and White. It is entirely possible that this introductory adventure, like the one in Raiders, could mark the beginning of a long series of enjoyable stories. Remender just needs to believe that too.

The Next Chapter

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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