#WHATSNEXT from Image Comics is Black Science, a new pulp science-fiction series from Rick Remender (Fear Agent, Uncanny Avengers), with art by Matteo Scalera and Dean White.
Described as “The Swiss Family Robinson Meets Quantum Leap,” Black Science focuses on Dr. Grant MacKay, a scientist who breaks all the rules in his attempt at interdimensional travel. Unfortunately, when his device, called the Pillar, is damaged, he finds himself — with his group of colleagues and his two children — being hurled from dimension to dimension at random!
We chatted with Remender about the genesis of Black Science, where his wild ride will take us, and what he’s excited for next! Make sure to pre-order Black Science now to save 20%. Plus, preview the first five pages of issue #1, courtesy of Image Comics.
TFAW: What sparked the idea for Black Science?
Rick Remender: It goes back to an outline that I was working on for a creator-owned book in 2006. I had the very basic concept, but I couldn’t find a way to make it work. It was about dimension traveling, but I couldn’t get the hook down. So I shelved it for a while, but it’s always been there, nagging at me.
When I got up and running on this, I really I think it came from looking at Frank Frazetta Eerie and Creepy magazines. Every single one of those covers feels like it’s in a new world, with a new past, and every single one demands that I know more about it! It got me thinking about the concept of Black Science, about dimension traveling, which sort of gave birth to, “I’ve got to do this.” I want to hit what I feel when I look at those Frazetta paintings, and have the rules somehow work in a way to give me the ability to tell a story that travels to interesting new places every few issues. That was really the impetus, what kind of kicked me in the ass!
TFAW: What is “black science,” exactly?
RR: Well, the term is supposed to reflect black magic. In this world, our hero Grant MacKay is an anarchist, he’s an old punker who probably listened to too much Crass in the ’80s. As a strident individualist, he views man-made laws and hierarchical organizations as the wall between humans and discovery.
And so, he has delved into all of the forbidden sciences, and all of the things that are illegal. The kinds of things that government bodies say are off-limits, that’s what he’s been doing in a secret bunker in the south of San Francisco in a hidden laboratory. He and some people who have named themselves the Anarchist League of Scientists — because they’ve read too many comic books — have devised this Pillar, as they call it, which can punch through dimensional boundaries and travel to other dimensions.
In Grant’s eyes, delving into black science is the thing that will lead to utopia. Every time a scientist has revealed some truth to the public — like the world is round, or any truth the general population isn’t ready for — they’re stoned to death or they’re called crazy. And so he sees this as an opportunity to overcome the laws and boundaries between him and true discovery, and by mapping the roads to different dimensions, he’ll be able to pilfer any resource our world needs, in any instance.
For example, you could find a dimension, a parallel universe, where cancer was cured, and he’d go take that. Any resource they may need, they can just find another dimension and they can go pilfer it. It’s like an imagination lockbox, where if you can imagine it, then that parallel dimension likely exists, and then you just have to map the road to go acquire it.
So all of his intentions are good, he’s a good guy — he’s just trying to do it his way. But of course, there are consequences to these things, and that’s where we find them at the beginning of the first issue.
TFAW: It seems like their plan went awry, and there was some sort of sabotage — and also, Grant’s children are with them, which I can’t imagine was part of the original plan.
RR: No, and we’ll reveal in upcoming issues how that all came together. Basically, it was the perfect storm of things going wrong, and who it was that sabotaged the Pillar device, and how exactly it’s been damaged, and broken, to where now it’s jumping at random intervals to random dimensions for unspecified periods of time.
So sometimes they’ll end up in a dimension for 30 seconds, and sometimes they’ll end up in a place for 30 hours. And every one of these dimensions has a new set of rules, as well, which adds to the high adventure and makes it exciting.
But at its core, it’s still a character story. Somebody amongst them sabotaged the device, and obviously Grant’s kids are with him. The woman who helped him build the Pillar — the engineer behind half of what they’ve developed here — Rebecca, he began having an affair with her, so obviously he’s hiding that from his kids.
So the ensemble cast drama starts bubbling, and at the same time they’re being hurled to new dimensions every issue or two. As a foundation, I’ve already plotted to issue #35 at this point. The concept lends itself very easily to long-form storytelling.
TFAW: Besides Grant’s relationship with Rebecca, what are some other group dynamics?
RR: I’m going to be playing a lot with the idea that there is no such thing as a hero or a villain. It’s all subjective, it’s all relative: what a human’s motivations are, and what those are colored by. Someone who has a tendency to do something that we would all agree is unsavory or unethical might have a whole sea of other positive characteristics that are not being looked at.
Every one of these characters has that. I’ve made sure to temper them, so they’re all just complex human beings. As the plot grows and the cauldron bubbles and boils, we’ll start to unravel their back stories and see who they are, and that will help us pull a few whammies in terms of subverting expectations.
People may expect things to go one way, but we’ll veer the car and go the other. Nobody is really who they seem at this point, because of where we decided to start the story. There’s a lot of interpersonal stuff: Shondra, who is sort of a sycophantic assistant, and Kadir, who is one of Grant’s former colleagues who became upper management, and is able to fund Grant. But of course Grant is anti-authoritarian, so he sees him as the enemy.
Then you’ve got Pia, who is Grant’s daughter, who is 18 and hates him. He hasn’t been home for the last 10 years, he’s been in the laboratory. She sees him as a failure and an obsessive, somebody who’s turned his back on her mother, which he has. And then there’s Nathan, who’s 11 and sort of still loves his dad and doesn’t know any different. His whole life, Grant has only been around for the occasional dinners and maybe a movie here and there.
And then you’ve got Shawn, who’s sort of the adopted son of Grant. He’s somebody who has a high genius-level IQ who Grant took under his wing and brought in on the project.
Working with my editor Sebastian Girner, we’ve spent about seven months writing character sheets and ramping up the drama between the ensemble cast, as well as finding ways to tie it in and reflect it against interesting new worlds.
TFAW: Image is calling Black Science “the spiritual sequel to Fear Agent.” How is Black Science similar to Fear Agent, and how is it different?
RR: It’s mostly different. I think that it’s similar just in that they’re both pulp science-fiction. Fear Agent is more grounded in reality. Obviously we deal with dimension traveling and time traveling as well. But it was really the story of Keith Huston, this lonely alcoholic trying to redeem himself.
With Black Science, the story is really the cast, and while Grant MacKay is definitely the lynchpin for part of it, he’s not the entire focus of the book. When we get to issue #7 through #10, I think people will see where we’re actually building to and going with this. The story really is more about the ensemble cast. I’m trying not to be specific and tell you which of the characters [is the focus], but it’s not the characters that you expect that you’ll be following through the story.
TFAW: What do you think is going to be the most exciting thing about this book to readers?
RR: We put in all of our time and energy to make sure that this is a character story at its core. The fun is obviously the high-adventure hijinks as they’re being hurled to different dimensions–each one completely different than the next.
Taking artists like Matteo Scalara and Dean White and unleashing them on new worlds every few issues, where you can basically do anything you want and cook up any sort of “What If?” scenario visually, is the kind of comic book I’d like to see more of, where the artists are unleashed and really allowed to show what they’re made of.
But underneath it all is this hodgepodge group of scientists and this family, and that’s the beating heart of it, while the color and Frazetta science-fiction of it all is the world traveling. It’s a nice middle ground between insane comic books and something that’s a character story with some heart.
TFAW: Black Science seems to be phenomenally well planned out–you said you have about 35 issues plotted out, and you also mentioned that artist Matteo Scalera will stay on the book for the entire run. What spurred that for you?
RR: That’s just the dream! With somebody like Matteo, who is not just incredibly talented and an amazing storyteller, but somehow fast — he’s the most valuable artist in the world, as far as I’m concerned! He’s that rare mix: he can hit his deadlines, and the pages look like he labored on them for six months.
I like long-form stories. As a reader, I was with Hellboy from the beginning, and Preacher from the beginning. Those books kept coming out and kept feeding me stories, and had the same artists and the same writers and the same teams putting things together. Even when Mignola pulls in somebody, it’s Duncan Fegredo, somebody amazing. And on Preacher, they managed to keep Steve Dillon for everything.
The consistency is important. On Fear Agent, I think one year we only shipped five issues, and that was a sacrifice that we made in order to keep either Tony Moore or Jerome Opena involved in some capacity in every one of the stories. Now that it’s finished and there are two volumes, and there’s going to be the second hardcover of Fear Agent, I think that that book stands as something I can be proud of, because of that artistic integrity, and because of the consistency of the art.
I know as a fan I like it, and as a creator I definitely am excited by the opportunity to be able to tell a story that really builds this cast, and gets you invested in them with a consistent art team.
TFAW: What comics are you reading right now? Do you even have time for that?
RR: Very little! Right now I’m reading Dungeon Quest by Joe Daly, and I just repurchased Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown. Every few years I have to re-read Ed the Happy Clown. I just picked up Lost Cat by Jason. That’s what’s on my pile right now.
Usually, if I have time to read and I’m looking for inspiration for the comic book stuff, I’ll try and go way back and read things like old, old Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury edited a series of short stories in the late ’30s and early ’40s, and that was the last thing I was picking away at. Or I’ll just try and tear apart old weird fantasy comic books and sink my head into the ’50s DC guys.
TFAW: What other projects are you excited about right now?
RR: We’ve got some pretty exciting stuff coming up with Uncanny Avengers, showing the consequences of all of the superheroes fighting each other that we’ve seen so much of over the past 10 years–from Civil War, to Schism, to AvX. I wanted to show the consequences for people when they lack the ability to cooperate, and give a consequence to all of the petulant squabbling we’ve seen amongst the superheroing community. So that stuff is coming up — I think issue #14 is when that really starts to come together. And that ships the same day as Black Science [November 27].
Then I have Deadly Class coming up, which is about a high school for assassins set in 1987, so I get to delve into my stories of being a punker back in the mid-’80s, and also mix it in with some blood and murder, with kids. [laughs] Who doesn’t want that?
I’ve recently pitched a lot of big exciting things for Captain America. Things that we haven’t seen before, so we’ll be shaking that title up in a pretty big way. I’m pretty excited. It’s probably not anything that we can announce for another five, six months.
And then, obviously, the Fear Agent [Library Edition] Volume 2 hardcover. For people who read the first one, I think the second is even better. Tons and tons of Jerome Opena and Tony Moore art, and those guys just got better and better every single arc. And then, also, The Last Christmas has an oversized hardcover, a book written by Gerry Duggan and penciled by me, with Hilary Barta on finishes and Michelle Madsen on colors.
Our thanks to Rick Remender and Image Comics for a fantastic interview! Make sure to order Black Science now and enjoy an all-new adventure.
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