Val Riggs is used to the darkness. Born with cataracts that rendered her legally blind for the first four years of her life, Val (aided by surgery financed by her adoptive parents) is able to witness with her own eyes the moment the entire world is plunged into darkness. But the darkness of Nocterra is more sinister than anyone is prepared for. After the “Big PM,” anything left in the darkness for more than 10 hours starts to become a “Shade”: a horrible mutation of its former self. Plant life, animals, and people–nothing is spared by the unnatural dark.
Thirteen years after the Big PM, Val is now a trucker who transports valuable cargo (including people) from one well-lit refuge to the next. However, a mysterious figure asks Val to help him complete a strange quest that might hold answers to the seemingly eternal night. Can Val and her brother Emory escape the darkness on time?
If there’s one thing comics publishers love these days, it’s a good dystopian story that pits horrific creatures against a ragtag group of survivors. We’re quite awash with these stories inhabiting our various forms of entertainment these days, so my main concern heading into Nocterra #1 was whether or not it would stand out in the field. Fortunately, a veteran team of creators seems determined to make it do just that.
One aspect that immediately struck me about this story was the personal element. Humans of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds have experienced darkness. Darkness can be comforting; it mutes the world around us and allows for a meditative space to just pause and breathe. Darkness is also unsettling; we have no idea what lies beyond what we can’t see in our darkened sphere of vision.
When my wife and I lived in Idaho, we drove out to the middle of nowhere to view the solar eclipse of 2017 (arguably in the best spot in the country to experience the eclipse). We were in the mountains, and the sights and sounds of life were everywhere. However, when the moon blocked out the sun, the strange darkness quieted the nature all around us. It was amazing–and eerie. I imagined what it might have been like to live in a time when there was no scientific understanding of a total eclipse. Scott Snyder imagines that fear and ups the ante.
Snyder says this story stems from his childhood fear–and his own young son’s fear–of the dark. He effectively builds a world that has lived in darkness for 13 years and yet refuses to just leave it at that. The Shades allow the creative team to inject horror-inspired imagery, and the twist at the end increases the stakes for the characters involved. As for the characters, we can’t help but be drawn in by a story of two siblings working to ensure the other is safe. Val’s less-than-sunshiney outlook on life might be only too familiar to those of us who lean toward a jaded disposition. I wish we could’ve had a little more time to flesh out the two characters who present Val with her quest, but that’s sure to come in subsequent issues.
Tony S. Daniel and Tomeu Morey join Snyder on art and coloring duties, respectively. Daniel’s art elevates the story with spectacular dystopian settings, unique character designs, and mutated monsters straight out of a nightmare. He also breathes personality into the characters with fluid facial expressions. The coloring, at first, seemed to be one of the weaker points to me; there were scenes that almost begged for brighter, flashier colors than those that were presented. But, then again, the world is plunged into total darkness, so giving us the ability to see clearly in spite of this is a strongpoint. And the other stroke of genius in the coloring is that, since the world is dark, artificial light is our only source of light. So the sickly, dingy tones make total sense. Have you ever been trapped inside a windowless room for hours on end? That’s what the colors feel like, and it works.
Nocterra goes up against a bevy of comics vying to satisfy our dystopian survival story itch. An intriguing Death Stranding-meets-The Mist-plunged-in-darkness premise, aided by empathetic characters on an epic quest, makes this comic a bright spot on the pull list.
Who Turned Out the Lights?8.0/10
Brother and Sister Have Each Other's Backs7.0/10
Wild, Cosplay-inspiring Character designs7.5/10
Nightmarish Flying Freaks7.5/10
Metaphorically Brilliant Colors7.5/10
- Writer: Scott Snyder
- Artist: Tony S. Daniel
- Colorist: Tomeu Morey
- Letterer: Andworld Design
- Publisher: Image Comics
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