In a world of infinite dimensions and possibilities, the choices we make about who we are and what we want to be can save worlds and destroy lives. Writer Rick Remender and artist Matteo Scalera demonstrated this in the first act of their creator-owned Image Comics series “Black Science,” which chronicles the adventures of the Anarchist League of Scientists, a team of Dimensionauts led by Grant McKay who used his invention, the Pillar, to explore the multiple realities of the “Eververse.”
In the first sixteen issues readers were introduced to the various members of the League as they leapt through strange worlds with their malfunctioning Pillar and watched as the group’s secret agendas and character flaws tore them apart and left them scattered across a multitude of dimensions. In Wednesday’s “Black Science” #17, Remender and Scalera kick off a new arc — and a new act — for their alternate reality saga that picks up the pieces from the end of Act One and delves deep into the psyche of Grant McKay.
â€¨Rick Remender Explains Shift to Creator-Owned Comics
CBR News spoke with Remender about the new arc, how it serves as a great jumping on point for new readers, the characters that will soon be coming back to haunt his Dimensionauts in a big way, and the appeal of writing a layered series that encourages readers to read each issue carefully and multiple times.
CBR News: “Black Science” returns with issue #17 this week, and it appears this will be the start of Act Two of the grand story you’re telling in the book. Is that correct? And what does this mean for regular readers of the series?
Rick Remender: The first 16 issues really were one big story, and when you have an ensemble cast you have to give each one of them screen time, story arcs, and character arcs to do them any justice. All of those trains have to leave the station and they all collided together at the end of issue #16.
Issue #16 ended with the betrayal of one of the cast members, Rebecca, which was something we had been hinting at throughout the series. She wanted to, more than anything, end up in a dimension where her twin brother was still alive. So that’s kind of been her driving motivation from the beginning. So she had recalibrated the Pillar to go to an Earth where her brother was alive. Of course the rest of the team, once they discovered that, weren’t super happy. It led to some disharmony, which led to the team being jumped in a way we haven’t seen before.
So issue #17 is a good jumping on point for readers who have heard about the series and want to check it out?
This literally at one point was going to be the opening of the series. You write these bibles and these back stories and then you really have to decide where you’re going to start the story. I find it to be the most difficult part of writing; having this big narrative and going, “Where should I start and how much can I cut?”
â€¨So it’s a wonderful time for people who have heard about the series to jump on. Issue #17 is written as a first issue. And of course there will be the big oversized hardcover, which comes out around the same time as issue #17. So ostensibly people could go out and read the hardcover and get all caught up, and then hop on with issue #17.
Let’s back up and talk a little bit more about the end of Act One in issue #16. That issue ended with a gateway opening and an ominous but familiar female figure emerging and then annihilating the people of the plague dimension Grant previously saved. Refresh our memory — who is this woman, again?
It’s Chandra. In issue #6 she was possessed by one of the sentient gas ghosts. So during the kerfuffle of all of that Chandra went down to save Kadir, as she’s the Smithers to his Burns, and in doing that she was possessed by the sentient gas ghosts that we had seen earlier trying to build a Pillar.
So around issue #11, when alternate Grant showed up with his handheld Pillar and was dispatched, the sentient gas ghost possessed Chandra, picked up the handheld Pillar, and left. So now we’re going to discover what Chandra and the ghosts have been doing with the Pillar and what they want.
For the bulk of the first act of “Black Science” the larger antagonists for the Dimensionauts was essentially each other. It seems like while that’s been going on though you’ve been building up some other enemies that we’ll see more of soon including Chandra.
Yeah, everything that we’ve stumbled into in the first 16 issues and all of the crazy creatures are all set up for a reason. There are two major players that we’ve seen that come back and cause trouble. One is the millipede death cult, which sees life as the beginning of all suffering so the solution is to wipe out life. We saw that they ended up with a Pillar. And yes, the other is the parasitic gas life that infects mammals. We saw that they were in the middle of trying to build a Pillar, and now that they have one we’re going to find out that they’ve been up to some trouble.
So it’s the chaos theory. It’s the dominoes falling. It’s also sort of the “Black Science” of it all. Our cast is the foreign flora and fauna introduced to new dimensions. As they’ve been going through these adventures they’ve been leaving things behind that cause trouble and will catch back up to them in a pretty big way.
Then lurking behind everything is the mysterious Mr. Blokk, correct?
And then there is Mr. Blokk, yes. We’ve seen a Blokk in almost every world we’ve gone too and we’ve seen that their motivations are never altruistic. We’ll start to see hints of who Mr. Blokk is in this arc, but he really starts to come back in a pretty big way in the next arc. He’s our big bad and I wanted to keep him percolating in the background for a long time before he comes and drops his boot on the team. So it’s a very different comic book starting with issue #17.
I think issues #17-19 are the most in-depth characters building issues we’ve done yet. We’re looking at Grant and his history; why he is who he is and why he’s done what’s he done.
You’ve planted a lot of seeds and left a lot of of clues in early issues, and it sounds like they’re all about to come back in big ways. So it seems like you’re writing this series in a way that rewards rereading past issues to pick up on things you might have missed or forgotten about.
It’s something I grapple with a lot and it’s interesting that you bring it up. Because I put in so many months and months of work before the books come out putting together the story, the bible and the characters that when we’re off and running and the books are coming out you have to juggle not only your larger narrative but you also have to make sure that each issue has a mixture of humanity and cool action set pieces. I sometimes wonder though if people enjoy that because realistically at this point with “Black Science” we’re entering into second act of our big story and I’m still in the infancy of this story that I’ve concocted.
So I think there is a kind of reader who does appreciate that and does enjoy it, and I think there are people who prefer self-contained done-in-one issues. I respect both, but these issues are not done in ones. This is one giant story that has an end goal in mind with a lot of acts leading up to it.
Count me in as one who enjoys the approach you’re taking because it gives your comics a sort of “replay” value.
That’s nice to hear. I know that “Fear Agent” was the same way where I had this big bible and I knew where I was going. It took us six years to get it all completed, but I know the “Fear Agent” fans we have are very fanatical and like to reread and find things that I set up in issue #5 that then played out in issue #16. They like to find hints and see how there was an intent there.
Hopefully that enriches the story and it makes people happy while they read it to know that there was a lot of thought put into it. It’s something I look for in books I read.
The first time I encountered this type of approach it was a little challenging, but I’ve come to really enjoy it.
I think challenging is the right word. It’s not light and easy. It’s a commitment, but hopefully the writing and art are exciting and interesting enough on their own issue by issue that watching the story unfold is fulfilling. Then once you commit yourself I hope you’re going to get something out of it that is worth the investment.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the story that begins in issue #17 and focuses in on Grant McKay. How much story time has passed off panel between issues #16 and #17?
There may be some spoilers here for people who want to go into the story completely surprised — so slight spoiler warning!
It’s been three years and we find Grant in a very strange world where nothing is as it appears. It’s a wonderful mystery that we’ve dropped him into where something has been eating his memories; or so he says. He has giant holes n his memory and he keeps saying, “Something has been eating my memories.” It’s all a larger foundation so that we can unearth some things about Grant that we haven’t seen before that will hopefully help people understand who he is and why he’s led the life that he has led.
We did this with Heath Huston in “Fear Agent” as well where you didn’t understand why Heath was an alien exterminator or what he was doing until we were on like issues #14 and #15. So this plays that same kind of role. It’s a lot of “Ah-ha!” Where you can understand that Grant did this because of these things in his background.
So in terms of the adventure of it all there are some new cast members that pop up here and play a role. They ultimately send Grant on a brand new trajectory and a whole new mission.
The title of this new arc is “Godworld.” What can you tell us about the titular setting and what did Matteo bring to the table?
This was something where Matteo had come to the States and he stayed with me for a few nights. We sat up, had some beers, cracked open a bunch of comics books, talked, and stayed up all night writing notes. So this is something that Matteo, editor Sebastian [Girner] and I cooked up together. It has some of the wildest designs Mattep’s done yet, and he and [colorist] Moreno Dinisio are gelling and have gelled more and more issue-by-issue. When you see #17 it’s going to be the best looking book on the stands. These guys have really formed into a super Voltron of terrible power.
So as I was telling Matteo the story ideas he was cooking up visuals, and we kind of made this cake together. We do that most of the time, but because he was here and we got to stay up all night this story was even more collaborative. We talk every few weeks on Skype for a few hours and dig into the characters. He throws ideas at me and I throw them at him. Then we cook up visuals. In the middle I call Sebastian and chat him, get his notes and thoughts.
I do that with Wes Craig and Sean Murphy as well. I think it enriches the book. Greg Tocchini doesn’t speak English so we have a much more organic process on “Low.” I’ll hint at things and then he’ll send in a design. Then I’ll tweak things to fit the design.
So this is a story that Matteo and I have spent a lot of time discussing to try and get a really unique and interesting visual effect from what we have coming up. He’s already up to issue #20 so I already know how it all looks and I’m very eager for people to see what he has been doing on all of these.
From what you’ve been saying it sounds like, tonally, “Godworld” is more of an intimate and strange story that ignites the fuses for the series’ next big set of explosive revelations and developments.
Yeah, it’s far from a slow down because there are still stakes. The soul of our main protagonist is at stake here. This is the “Alice in Wonderland” chapter, for lack of a better analogy.
Finally, can you leave us with some more hints and teases about where “Black Science” is headed after the “Godworld” arc?
The next arc we’re building toward out of this will have a much deeper understanding of who Grant is. It will also have a much deeper understanding of what the stakes are and what he’s up against. It’s very high adventure. Then we’ll get into hero work, really. We’ll have a character arc that’s taken our lead to a place where he then makes a new resolution and heads out to do things a different way. When those pieces all come together the book then becomes something entirely different again.
I think the reinvention of the book is what really drew Matteo and I to the concept in the first place.
So the trials of “Godworld” and what follows after will reinvent both Grant and the book?
For sure. I like these stories to transform the same way humans do. There are character arcs, but the joy of it is it’s not just a season of television or a film. Once the character arcs are met we get to see the next arcs because as human beings we’re constantly evolving and changing, and we have so many things that are affecting us. So it’s nice to takes these characters and have them evolve on an ongoing basis.
We’ve got so many plans for Grant and some of the new characters we cooked up, which means our only real problem here is we can’t ship the book bi-weekly. I would love that. I just need to find a way to get Matteo addicted to meth amphetamines and lock him in a basement or something, which is on my “to do” list. [Laughs]
“Black Science” #17 embarks on a journey to comic shops November 4, 2015.