“Black Science” comes back to life in issue #13. Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera return to the emotional core of the series, and it’s invigorating to see them work with ideas of responsibility, heroism and the stories people tell themselves. As with the series’ best issues, #13 questions Grant’s image of himself as a suffering hero, doomed to carry mankind on his back – as if mankind is the one who wanted him to achieve in the first place. Scalera’s creativity and expressiveness continue to impress, and Moreno Dinisio provides evocative colors to draw the story out. “Black Science” #13 is a welcome new installment.
Scalera has created cool worlds throughout the run, and the current neo-Roman Empire is no exception. The soldiers’ structured helmets and fur-line capes are utterly incongruous, but somehow they make sense. The buildings call to mind Roman aqueducts as much as they do TV show spaceships. However, in a wasteland city decimated by plague, the characters must provide much of the movement and visual interest. Luckily, Scalera’s action scenes are charged and fervid, like an intensely clear fever dream. The unexpected angles, tight framing and kinetic characters all create scenes that feel much more intense than they could in another artist’s hands.
Disinio’s colors are rich and variegated, adding fluidity to Scalera’s linework. In particular, the orange that streams through the doorway in the final panel is eerie and affecting. It uses Scalera’s framing to suggest the worst possibility, adding dread to the cliffhanger.
“Black Science” is at its most compelling when it interrogates the characters’ narratives, especially when those characters are writing themselves as saviors. Grant’s discovery of the multi-universe plague he’s spread is fascinating in its implications, and Remender isn’t afraid to let Grant ask himself the tough questions: “More evidence of the bad thought I can’t escape — Maybe we should die here.”
In addition to Grant’s own doubts, “Black Science” #13 uses Pia and Shawn’s narratives to great effect. While Pia seems to understand Grant’s flaws, Shawn’s mentee relationship blinds him. At one point, after Shawn runs through flames to locate a solution, he thinks “No matter how awful things get — Grant McKay always comes through in the end.” The fact that Shawn himself is the one who’s coming through, rather than Grant, doesn’t occur to him. It’s a smart use of the contradiction between the narration and the visuals, another illustration of how the stories that these characters tell themselves aren’t always true.
Pia’s emotional reunion with her not-quite-mother is lovely and tragic, demonstrating Pia’s surprising maturity under her rage. That said, the scene would have been more effective if Remender were less scattered with his characterization on a series level. These flashbacks are often so unexpected that it detracts from the emotional impact.
All told, “Black Science” #13 reminded me why I keep coming back to this series. It’s rare to find a series that’s as interested in the weird science as it is in the even weirder problem of raising a family, but “Black Science” tackles both.