“Material” #1 is the comic book equivalent of a sprawling HBO television series, a narrative with several as-yet disconnected but incredibly engaging protagonists. On a micro scale, each one deals with the ramifications of living in modern society and the sociological implications of things like technology, war and the law. It’s complex and thoughtful with a somber tone. Artist Will Tempest delivers panel heavy pages in a straightforward manner that accompanies this tone, though readers may find some panels distracting, as the lack of detail makes it difficult to make out what is happening. This is an exception and not a rule, only noticeable when letterer Clayton Cowles doesn’t attribute a tail to a speech bubble or a narrative box isn’t clearly defined. The story, though, is mature and draws in readers through its use of jump cuts and confidence.
Kot’s style has always been a bit psychedelic; one needs only to see his work on “Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier” to know this. He is a writer thinking on a macro scale and drilling downwards, as he does here with an ex-Guantanamo detainee who struggles to readjust to feelings and normal life after being subjected to months of torture. His visits to a dominatrix for water boarding sessions — the only way he can maintain an erection anymore — are balanced with his wide-eyed sleepless nights and the passionless embraces of his family. Kot wants to explore the humanity behind torture and its aftermath, and Tempest’s illustrations — which show the man’s pupils wide and white — convey the fear of emptiness that consumes him.
Equally as engaging is the person with whom the reader spends the most time, Professor Julius Shore. The professor also struggles with his feelings towards humanity and purpose as he is contacted by a being who claims to be the first independent artificial intelligence come to life. Kot uses Shore to investigate the interaction between humans and technology and where the soul balances itself between the two. Shore is skeptical but his academic nature and desire to exploit the happenings for his own gain drive him onward, speaking with the AI more eloquently and fluently than he did with his own daughter, who tells him he will be a grandfather soon.
Kot also fills the gutters of the pages with footnotes, facts and quotes that he finds inspire or inform the work on a given page; the density of information here is impressive and delivered in an entertaining and clean way. There are still several other subplots not covered in this review that are worth a reader’s time, and all of this is before the essay Fiona Duncan writes in the backmatter of the book. This is a comic driven by his worldview and will stand or fall on the writer’s ability to explore that in a manner that is clear to readers, and so far Kot and Tempest are off to a great start.