Strange Attractors by Charles Soule and Greg Scott

Strange AttractorsStory: Charles Soule
Art: Greg Scott

Published: April 9th, 2013
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Science Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Length: 128 pages

In Strange Attractors, Heller Wilson is a grad student studying complexity theory, a branch of mathematics devoted to the study of complex systems. He’s a career-minded guy, and is currently working on a thesis topic suggested by his advisor and designed specifically to get him hired at a high-paying job after graduation. Problem is, he’s struggling with the topic – comparing the resiliency of New York City after 9/11 to the struggles of New Orleans after Katrina – so he decides to track down a former Columbia professor who wrote about similar subject decades ago.

Wilson soon discovers that the professor, Spencer Brownfield, is a bit of an eccentric. Among other things, Brownfield explains that he eats exactly 1700 calories a day – no more, no less – and closes their meeting by releasing a rat into a crowded restaurant. However, Wilson is desperate for help with his thesis, so he persists and manages to talk Brownfield into giving him access to his research in exchange for helping with a few “projects”.

When Wilson shows up to help with those projects, Brownfield sends him off on a number of apparently random tasks without any explanation. Wilson cooperates gamely for a while, but when he eventually gets fed up and decides to quit, Brownfield surprises him by demonstrating what those seemingly random tasks can achieve when done in concert. It turns out that Brownfield is (he claims) using his theories to “adjust” events in New York City in subtle ways, continually working against the ever-increasing flow of chaos and darkness in the city. Brownfield explains that the reason New York City is so resilient is because he is working to keep it that way. Wilson is drawn back in, and soon becomes obsessed with Brownfield’s theories.

Strange Attractors is one of those stories that exists just on the edge of science fiction. Although the idea of using mathematical theories to control events in a city seems fanciful at first blush, upon consideration it feels like the sort of thing that might not be outside the realm of possibility. History caught up with William Gibson, after all. Accordingly, the book is simultaneously both grounded and magical, and the resulting mix is extremely appealing.

In some ways the premise reminded me a bit of the basic concepts of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, but here the idea of controlling future outcomes is real-time, personal and entirely specific to the city of New York. Brownfield considers himself NYC’s caretaker, and Wilson eventually admits to himself that he also feels a strong enough connection to the city that he wants to protect it. The author and artist clearly share that love of the city, and their devotion is part of what makes this story feel unique.

I also loved the art, which is gorgeously drawn and full of color. Whenever Brownfield or Wilson visualize possible outcomes, they are shown as a series of interlocking colored lines bouncing between people or objects. This conceit helps make Brownfield’s theories feel concrete, like something hidden in plain sight if you only know how to look. Also, color is used to signify the current state of the city – red for chaos, blue for stability – and the growing presence of redness helps to build tension throughout as Brownfield and Wilson work to save New York from impending cataclysm.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Strange Attractors, and will definitely be checking out other work by the same author. Recommended.

REALLY LIKED IT
REALLY LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Bad Medicine Volume 1

Bad Medicine Volume 1Story: Nunzio DeFillipis & Christina Weir
Art: Christopher Mitten
Colors: Bill Crabtree

Published: January 30th, 2013
Publisher: Oni Press
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Length: 120 pages

Bad Medicine follows disgraced former cardiologist Dr. Randal Horne and hard-nosed NYPD detective Joely Huffman as they work together to solve strange murders apparently caused by fringe science and exotic diseases. Also along for the ride are the ever-cranky pathologist Teague and his oh-so-snarky partner, Hogarth. The first collected volume of Bad Medicine includes two story arcs. In the first arc, detective Huffman discovers a dead man with an invisible head in an experimental lab, and tracks down Randal Horne to help solve the mystery. In the second arc, the CDC asks Horne and Huffman et al to investigate what appears to be a werewolf attack.

As I was reading Bad Medicine, I couldn’t help comparing it to Fringe, and it isn’t just because the mysteries are caused by weird science. It’s also the fact that the main characters are an eccentric, disgraced doctor who went on walkabout and a no-nonsense blonde female detective. Even still, that wouldn’t be such a big deal if Bad Medicine brought anything unique to the table, but it really doesn’t have much to offer in terms of originality. The first mystery seems stranger than it actually is thanks to a bit of misdirection from the villain, and the second is a fairly bog-standard werewolf story.

However, I did generally like the art in the book. It’s reasonably unique, stylized enough to be distinctive while still feeling fairly grounded. I did have occasional problems figuring out what was going on in panels that were either too stylized or laid out poorly, but I was usually able to decipher the action upon further reading. It may also have been a side effect of reading a digital version of the book. The real problem with Bad Medicine is that the writing is stilted and uninteresting.

The dialogue never feels very natural, and the cast consists entirely of stock characters without any real defining traits. Horne talks to a ghost and Huffman has a pet cat she dotes on, but the characterization doesn’t go much deeper than that. We’re told that Horne has a terrible bedside manner, but he never actually says anything particularly off-putting, so it’s hard to see how he got the reputation. One of the supporting characters, Hogarth, spends most of his time throwing out wisecracks that just fall flat or feel out of place, and he ends up coming off as a one-note attempt at comic relief.

Overall, Bad Medicine was a pretty forgettable read, and I definitely won’t be checking out future volumes of the series.

DISLIKED IT
DISLIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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iZombie Vol. 1: Dead to the World

Published: March 22, 2011
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre(s): Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 144

Pop culture has been in zombie/vampire/werewolf overdrive the past few years, and it’s pretty rare to find a story that has a unique twist on the mythos. iZombie, an ongoing series from Vertigo by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, isn’t the savior of the genre, but it does at least have a few original twists on some tired old archetypes.

iZombie tells the story of Gwen Dylan, an undead gravedigger who has to eat brains once a month to keep from becoming a full-on shambling zombie horror. She doesn’t enjoy the taste at all, describing them as worse than “a cross between motor oil and someone else’s vomit”, but eating them keeps her sane and relatively normal, so she digs up the freshest grave once a month and does what she feels is necessary. One unfortunate side effect of brain-eating is that the memories of the deceased come along for the ride, and she finds herself compelled to finish their unfinished business. When the story opens, she eats the brains of a man who may have been murdered, and sets out to solve the mystery.

Gwen’s only friends are Ellie, a ghost-girl who died forty years ago and dresses like one of Austin Powers’ backup dancers, and Scott (aka ‘Spot’), who turns into a “were-terrier” during the full moon, which mostly just means he becomes embarrassingly hirsute. They live in a version of Eugene, Oregon overflowing with supernatural beings; the paintball place down the road is run by a coven of vampires that look like former sorority girls, and a mysteriously menacing man wrapped in bandages may be an ancient Egyptian mummy. Naturally, there are also monster hunters thrown into the mix, one of whom becomes a possible love interest for Gwen, which will surely lead to further complications down the line.

The art, done by the inimitable Michael Allred, is gorgeous, full of thick black lines and his signature Madman style. One particularly impressive spread in the middle of the book shows Gwen walking through the memories of another character. The memories are shown as individual panels in the comic, but are printed in an exaggerated halftone. Gwen seems to exist above the panels, standing between or on top of each individual memory. Allred’s art is easily my favorite part of this book.

The story is good, but mostly setup. The mystery established at the start doesn’t amount to very much, and many of the plot threads in this initial volume are not resolved. However, the explanation of the overal supernatural mythos is thoughtful, and most of the creatures are given an interesting twist. Only the vampires seem particularly cliche – too-beautiful women preying on lonely men. I think there’s potential here, however; Roberson establishes enough interesting threads that I look forward to reading future volumes.

REALLY LIKED IT
REALLY LIKED IT

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