Welcome to the first installment of Sunday Reviews with JoeLovesComics, a new segment I'm introducing for this blog. This week for the inaugural installment I'm covering Nocterra and why you should be reading it!
Nocterra is written by Scott Snyder, art by Tony S. Daniel and Tomeu Morey on the colouring.
This review will contain some spoilers for the first three issues of Nocterra. I won't be spoiling everything but this won't be spoiler free either, hopefully just enough to get you intrigued!
To get it out of the way straight away, yes Nocterra is a post apocalyptic story. So, I know what you might be thinking. "Another post apocalyptic story, seriously?" And... you would be right. Yes, a post apocalyptic story is nothing new. Yes, maybe you're burnt out on these sorts of stories. But the way it is executed makes for some absolutely glorious comic fun. Either check it out and come back, or carry on and let me convince you with my spoiler tinged review.
Second and last spoiler warning!
Still here? Good, let's get into it.
I love how every issue (at least so far) opens up with a flashback. It gets you invested right away in Val and her brother Em, whilst gradually building up the horror of the new world from a human perspective. Issue 1 shows the dawn of "The Big PM", as Val and Em leave school and hit the road with their parents. It just does a brilliant job of setting up the context for this world, telling you the inciting incident and why you should care about the main character.
Then you hit issue 2, and it just gets disturbing more than anything. This is the stereotypical disaster movie calm before the storm. It just adds a certain eeriness to the whole book, the first look at Val and Em having to cope on there own without their parents. Val comforting Em as they worry about what's to come.
Then issue 3, yet again opens with a flashback and it's truly chilling. It adds a different perspective to the whole scenario. Sure it's one thing to just use these "human shades" as mindless action movie fodder, but up close like this, the minimal art focusing just on the radiant orange eyes is a straight up horror movie. Without spoiling too much, structurally what's so impactful about this third issue is the way that the ending links to the flashback at the beginning. Tieing the issue together like that just makes for a satisfying and worthwhile read in it's own right as well as another chapter of the story.
To explicity state it, the relationship between Val and Em is at the heart of this book. Beneath all the insane action sequences and shades and The Big PM, it's a book about a sister and brother
trying to survive in this brave new world. Which I think lots of us can relate to. That is the great thing about comics, escaping into another world and being able to connect to these characters.
But of course that's not all what it's about...
Val is a ferryman, taking people wherever they need to go in this post apocalyptic landscape.
Then the hook of the story is that this grandpa and granddaughter duo have an interesting proposition for Val.
Naturally they want to hire Val as a driver to go to this proposed special place. What's so special about it? Well you can find out for yourself in the book, but I love the way it gets weaved into the story, into this world.
A journey across a wasteland filled with monsters to a mysterious place of importance? When you put it like that, yes it does sound cliche. But like I said at the beginning the whole team executes this excellently, in a way that is somehow refreshing, but also disturbing and just generally hits all the right notes.
Also what I like as you get into the second and third issues is the all black pages with just "Miles: 415" at the bottom or however many miles they have travelled. It's just nice contextual details like that that help you immerse yourself in the story. Especially with the sudden all black page it breaks up the story well and naturally continues the theme of darkness ever present in this book.
So, we have compelling main characters, an interesting plot, but only scary monsters as obstacles, right? Right?
Blacktop Bill appears towards the end of issue 1 and oh my what an entrance he makes. It's such a genius but simple idea that just makes it perfect. In a book themed around darkness and being scared of the dark, what better villain is there than basically a silhouette. Even the explanation doesn't sound too far fetched, he's "bonded to a matrix of carbon nanotubes", which is one of the most awesome phrases I have read.
Why is he after Val and the truck? Well I'll leave you to figure that out. But as if literally being a silhouette wasn't menacing enough, there's a whole new mythical nature to him. Or at least his call sign. Did he choose a call sign inspired by the ghost story? Possibly. But if someone didn't know that for sure, they could believe all the ghost stories came from this actual Blacktop Bill person. It just makes the whole character creepier and man what an element of horror he adds to this blockbuster action story. Beneath it all it's just a story about childish fears gone wild. Permanent darkness, now a ghost story come alive, it's all there.
But he's not all myths and ghost stories. Like any brutal villain he is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. His presence in a scene just means your eye is instantly drawn to him, and because of his appearance every line of his dialogue seems to be dripping in terror.
Maybe I'm being over dramatic and it's just me. But man read that speech bubble to the left and try and tell me you don't get at least some chills down your spine.
There's one reason left for why you should be reading Nocterra, so last but certainly not least...
Naturally, the art speaks for itself.
I've always been a sucker for Tony S. Daniel's artwork and Tomeu Morey's colouring and in this series it really shows why. The action scenes are awesome, especially with the shades. I love you can see all the texture on their body, the glowing orange eyes and the sharp teeth. It makes for such a threatening image and just in general the shades make for some brilliantly drawn action scenes.
But in issues 1 and 2 in particular, there are some truly spectacular splash pages which show just how they can really shine.