Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.
Facing fatalities, personal rancor, and an increasing sense of despair, the remaining users of the Pillar do their best to regroup and fix the machine to go home. All the while, hostile life forms of another dimension seek to possess the Pillar for themselves as conflict between the “Dimensionauts” risks breaking the group irrevocably.
When Grant’s children become separated, they work to rejoin the group even as they voice distrust of Kadir and question the competence of the others. Returning to the Pillar, they discover a species of hardy, telepathic Millipedes that desire to Pillar to advance their own goals of annihilation. Intercut with scenes of Grant McKay—who turns out not to be as dead as everyone supposed—Kadir and the Indian Shaman attempt to hold back the Millipede assault long enough for the Pillar to jump to another dimension. Also, the alternate dimension Grant McKay from issue 5 returns to try and take Grant’s children by force in order to keep them safe from what they believe is an inevitably fatal journey.
Dimensionauts? We Are Not Calling Ourselves That
While there is less dimension jumping in this collection, there is certainly no less action. It all begins with a marginally successful rescue, Pia and Nate are forced to rely on themselves to make it back to the Pillar, battling giant, furry, carnivorous snails before even encountering the Millipedes, and once they’ve escaped and rejoined the rest of the crew, an intense stand-off against the Millipedes ensues as the Pillar gets ready to shift dimensions. All the while, Grant fights his way through another parallel dimension to recover a key that functions like the Pillar he made in his own dimension.
Interspersed throughout all these struggles are plenty of characters moments that round out not only the people involved but explain why some events have unfolded as they have. Kadir is rescued from the doorstep of villainy by his bravery, the story of how he learned the value of keeping his word, and his willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others, even as he admits to being selfish and responsible for breaking the Pillar (issue 7, 11).
Rebecca falls deeper into depression as she watches her friends and coworkers struggle and die. She blames herself pushing Grant to take on the Pillar project in the first place, and the back-story concerning the drowning death of her twin brother, Jake, sheds new light on the guilt and trauma she feels from having to drown that man in issue 2 in order to save the group (issue 9). Similarly, Nate and Pia, who have seemed more like luggage or plot devices up to this point, get developed as well, with Nate recalling how his dad taught him to be his own man and take charge of his life as Pia continues to showcase her perspective as Grant being as terrible absentee father (issue 8, 10).
Even the Indian Shaman, who hasn’t spoken, gets a back-story that humanizes him even as it explains how his people acquired the advanced technology and what is meant by the term “black science” (issue 8). The only character not fleshed out is Shawn, which becomes conspicuous as the story moves forward. If he remains a comic-relief character, it will be a missed opportunity of some significance.
Walking the Unbound Path
In the previous collection, the major thematic concern was the risk and opportunity presented by the Pillar and whether it was an instrument of advancement or a tool for unmitigated chaos. Those concerns surface less this time around because essentially every character sees the Pillar as an advancement that brings inevitable corruption. In many ways, the Pillar is a science-fiction equivalent of the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. There is a question of whether the Pillar is a purposeful agent of destruction or begin manipulated by a malevolent force, but is goes unanswered for the time being (issue 8). The benefits of interdimensional travel look more dubious with every jump to a new one.
The appearance of the Millipedes—who call themselves the Dralns—injects the story with a principle antagonist form outside of Grant McKay’s group and a complex philosophical current. Their leader, named Blokk, poses the question, “How can anything matter when every possible thing happens?” (issue 10). Their understanding of parallel dimensions creates such a profound existential problem that is changes their understanding of themselves and the universe. Blokk explains the dilemma and their solution to it:
Why is that here in this world all my people have ever known is suffering—food for the beast, slaves for the pulley? Yet in another plane, a fraction of an atom away, I am a king of opulence and bounty, in a green pasture living in eternal peace? Why do I toil while my doppelganger thrives? What misstep did I make to earn this? The mistake was merely consenting to existence—to being born at all. (Issue 10)
He goes on to explain he had a revelation that the purpose of his people—why they are strong and can endure suffering—is that it is their destiny to travel through all dimensions, extinguishing life to bring about blessed non-existence. To this end, they need the Pillar. The tortured psychology of the Millipedes leads them to genocidal despair. The abundance of so many dimensions leads them to embrace nihilism and a drive to expunge all life. They cry out their philosophy in battle: “The only absolute is pain. The only solution is release” (issue 11). For them, death is the true birth because it ends the otherwise senseless inequality presented by an infinite number of alternate dimensions.
Partner to the existential distress of the Millipedes is the quiet suggestions that some guiding principle is a work. Grant comments, “The same patterns playing themselves out in every dimensions” (issue 11). The Dimensionaut insignia of the “crescent onion” for example appears over and over from the traveler in the Shaman’s back-story and the mark on Blokk’s forehead, (issue 8). Also, the Pillar, the key, and the tower of the Millipedes all have the same design. It seems each dimension has a Grant McKay equivalent, and a Kadir equivalent, and a Blokk equivalent. What all of this means has yet to be suggested, but it is clearly an undercurrent to the whole series.
The Unbounded Avatars
As with the previous volume of Black Science, this is excellent reading for any fan of science-fiction that enjoys thrilling actions to go with the questions that accompany risky research. The story and characters are strong, and Scalera’s artwork continues to be evocative of the alien environments and denizens therein. The Millipedes in particular are an excellent design, and the visuals of the “goblin harvest” to start issue 7 set the tone for everything to follow.
Remender, Rick and Scalera, Matteo. Black Science, vol. 2: Welcome, Nowhere. Berkley, CA: Image Comics, 2015.
© 2015 Seth Tomko