The recipe for creating enduring science fiction can be tough to follow. Most works in the genre are often looked back on with derision or embarrassment due to wild technological predictions or general shortsightedness. Now, audiences who watched Blade Runner in 1982 surely didn't believe that 37 years later we’d have robot bounty hunters and synthetic snakes as a commodity (or maybe they did). But the exploration of what makes us human that Blade Runner hinged upon is as relevant today as it was then. In fact, it always has been.
A universal theme might be the secret ingredient to enduring science fiction. It doesn’t matter what genre tropes you decorate your cake with; if the middle is appetizing to a broad audience, your story has the potential to remain culturally relevant. Undiscovered Country #1 has that same potential, despite being a bit sloppy with the frosting.
From a narrative standpoint, Undiscovered Country #1 is a bit of a mess, but it's a mess with its heart in the right place and its feet planted firmly on the ground. The story focuses on an epidemiologist named Charlotte Graves who has been battling the destructive effects of an airborne virus known as The Sky Virus. Dr. Graves is quickly sent on a diplomatic mission after discovering the United States, which has become a hermit nation, might have a cure for the deadly epidemic. And that right there is about all you should know going into this comic.
How Dr. Graves and her fellow diplomats get into the US and what happens to them once they’re on the ground are things that would be a crime to spoil. Writers Scott Snyder (Justice League, Wytches) along with the team behind the criminally underrated second volume of Star Wars: Darth Vader, Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli, have built a well-realized world, but the players in it are still largely uninteresting.
This isn’t to say Dr. Graves or the others are bad characters, it’s just they are mostly ill-defined figures who are introduced rather haphazardly. In a superhero comic, you can get away with this sort of thing. Broad strokes are hallmarks of the genre. You should be able to look at a superhero team and get a general sense of what role each member might play just by looking at them. It’s been part of the visual vernacular of the graphic medium for nearly a century and shows no sign of waning.
You can do this with non-superhero characters as well, especially in the crime and fantasy genres. But when dealing with the geopolitics of a world that has been carved into vast but separate empires, all of which are desperately trying to cling to survival, there probably should be more nuance deployed in bringing characters into the story.
Despite how egregious this might sound at first, it doesn’t ruin the book by any means. If anything, the sudden character introductions and subsequent dive into the deep end of this brave, new world actually work to help build a sense of dread, as if our characters are truly living on the verge of chaos (which they are, by the way). The problem is the emotional connection is never really established.
Aside from one quick look at the life of Dr. Graves before being enlisted in a mission for the cure for Sky, we don't get much in the way of character development. In fact, all the flashback sequences to the discussions regarding the mission feel like expository dumps that really disrupt the flow of the story.
But a disruption doesn’t necessarily mean derailment. Again, Undiscovered Country #1 is quite a good debut; it’s just not a slam dunk, which isn’t to say the series won’t eventually take off running like cheetah. Perhaps it will find its groove and prove to be something truly special. With a strong creative team behind the book, it certainly has all the ingredients to do so.
Speaking of creative team, Camuncoli’s is so, so good here. The double page layout gives the story a very cinematic vibe and Matt Wilson's colors are spot on. Even if the politics of this book may not fit your worldview or you find some of the dramatic trappings lackluster, there's no question about it: Undiscovered Country is gorgeous.
Undiscovered Country #1 is a smart comic with a lot on its mind. The only drawback is how it handles its large cast of characters and its failure to make the reader care for any of them beside Dr. Graves, who is ostensibly our main protagonist. Snyder and Soule have built a startling version of the world, one where instead of nations, we are divided up into massive empires, all trying desperately to survive while the mysterious obelisk of the United States looms over them. What secrets the supposed titular empire holds are barely explored in this debut issue, but it's nigh impossible to shake the desire to learn more.
The first issue of Scott Snyder, Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli's Undiscovered Country goes on sale Wednesday, November 6 from Image Comics.