Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.
Three years after the last catastrophic attempt to jump with the Pillar, Grant McKay is living alone in an alien dimension, struggling to rebuild his invention while balancing on the edge of total physical and mental collapse. Only the idea of locating and rescuing his family—now scattered across the dimensions—gives him hope and guides his actions, when he can remember them at all. While allegedly in a place called Godworld, Grant must confront the terrible experiences of his past, including the ones in which he was the victim—such as his father’s death and the relentless, bullying criticism of his mother—and the ones in which he was the victimizer—such as his inflexibility and ego causing his family to suffer or his choice to put his work, Rebecca, and his hatred of Kadir before the people that love and need him. Only in taking responsibility does Grant discover he can move forward, fix his device, and set himself to the task of finding his children and repairing the damage he’s done across dimensions.
In setting out with his newfound sense of purpose, Grant encounters the Dralns, introduced in issue 7. The stony millipede creatures have one of Grant’s Pillars, which they worship, and are using it to travel from dimension to dimension, exterminating all life. As Blokk argues, “The only cure to suffering is death” (issue 20). Grant manages to counter this ideology, but cannot stop the Draln from continuing in their pilgrimage of annihilation. Grant also discovers that other dimensions are dying because of an antimatter chain reaction almost certainly caused by the Grants of other dimensions using the Pillar to punch holes into dimensions that are antithetical to life (issue 21).
In the course of relocating his family and team members, Grant finds Rebecca. She has insinuated herself in a dimension almost exactly like her home by killing the native Rebecca and replacing her. Discovering what she’s done, Grant undoes all her work to fit in and confronts her with the monstrous weight of her deeds. As he leaves to find his children, Grant says, “Some things you should pay for. I’m ready to pay for what I’ve done, Rebecca. Are you?” (issue 21). His ominous parting words set a dark tone for where the story of Black Science is likely to go.
A sticking point in this volume is how much time the reader has to spend alone with Grant on his surreal inner quest toward mental recovery. The bulk of issues 17, 18, and 19 are devoted to a character and his troubled backstory, some of which hasn’t been hinted at until this time. Other characters like Kadir had similar arcs. It didn’t sideline whole issues, though, and the action of the story still continued apart from learning a character’s background and internal development (issue 7). Grant may be the protagonist, but a lot of this reading seems like learning more of the same about a brilliant but damaged man. Thankfully, Matteo Scalera’s artwork adds a sense of danger and strangeness to issues that might be accused of prolonged navel-gazing. While it is heartening to see Grant literally struggle uphill with his baggage and overcome his personal problems, readers would not be remiss in wondering what other characters are doing. Also, this isn’t the first time Grant has discovered a sense of purpose and willingness to save the family he was always so eager to leave (issue 9). Again, reader might question how strong his resolve will be this time.
The Draln remain a philosophically and thematically fascinating adversary. Motivated by a sincere desire to liberate all life, they engage in horrific slaughter across dimensions made possible by the Pillar. Grant feels responsible and intends to do something to halt their progress, but first he needs to save his family and what is left of his team. If there’s some benefit to Grant’s prolonged personal quest it is that he has a counter argument to the evangelical nihilism of the Draln. All he needs now is the means to stop them from “spreading the faith,” as he puts it (issue 20).
For all the horrific work of the Draln, though, Rebecca seems to come off the worst. She manipulated Grant for years and betrayed the team all to find a world where her brother didn’t die. When she tries to defend her actions, Grant confronts her with her own words and her own deeds: “You once told me the worst thing about Kadir was his ability to rationalize the most awful aspects of his character with ease [….] You murdered a happy, normal version of yourself. Doesn’t take Freud to see the metaphor” (issue 21). Then, in perhaps one of the darkest moments in the whole series, he abandons her to face the consequences of her actions without any possibility of returning home. With his statement about people having to pay for their actions—even when rationalizing them—Grant enters into interesting ethical territory in part because he won’t set himself apart from these judgments. As he leaves to go find his family, it carries the suggestion that even as he judges Rebecca, he’s willing to subject himself to the same judgment of his children when he finds them. Such a conclusion is supported by his mournful reflection upon finding Ward’s corpse (issue 20). An interesting point to notice is that despite Grant’s newfound sense of self, his capacity for self-destruction remains in-tact.
While the fourth volume of Black Science might seem more contained to the point of myopia, it remains a series worth reading for its thematic ambition, science-fiction vision, and engaging artwork. Readers who don’t like Grant might be a bit disappointed with how long the narrative focuses on him, but in general, the direction of the series feels as though it is working toward a new goal of having Grant recover his family and face the consequences of his actions.
Remender, Rick. Black Science: Godworld. Illustrations by Matteo Scalera, vol. 4, Image, 2016.
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© 2017 Seth Tomko