Johnny Bilotta and I (Adam Teterus) love comics. There’s very little to that – we just love ’em. Every Wednesday(and Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday), we talk about what we’re reading. Here’s what we read just last week:
Charles Soule, Greg Scott
STORY: Here’s where Strange Attractors shines – the concept driving the book is both ambitious and significantly mind-blowing. On the surface, Soule touches upon several moving cultures of New York: the music scene, the political back-room of a stressed mayor, the daily goings-on of a city’s citizens. Peeling back the layers, we glimpse the mechanics of how these systems work together. It’s a lot to take in, honestly. We’re informed that New York is a system comprised of millions of smaller systems, all working together to power the entire state, that move and fluctuate in and out of sync.
Brilliant, scourned mathmetician Spencer Brownfield believes that he can see the systems in motion, and his direct intervention means the survival of the great machine that is New York. Think butterfly effect on a city-state scale. Lacking, though, is the deep exploration of Brownfield’s questionable sanity: I accept the possibility that he’s a genius, but I also readily received the stronger possibility that he suffers from some form of crippling OCD, caused by immense tragedy.
Johnny would have also liked to see his theories be explored in a more severe, possibly controversial angle – and I agree. The ex-professor spoke of orchestrating a “major adjustment” to “fix” New York’s out-of-balance system, and I was intrigued that this might mean he had a hand in certain city disasters, a la the “doomsday” scenario in Watchmen. Perhaps the script was too gentle to venture that course, or maybe I’m just a horrible person, but those circumstances seemed to be hinted at but aren’t taken advantage of.
ART: Greg Scott sure as hell didn’t have a simple task in illustrating the complex chaos theories that are so key to Strange Attractors, and his panels offer a mixed-bag of success and short-comings. For the most part, I like to think that Scott prevails in showing us what the hell is going on: I adored the panels depicting Heller’s “vision” of the systems in play, drawn via meandering trajectories and lines of “energy” connecting people to objects, buildings to transit systems, etc. I love these panels because they show me something that I’ve never seen.
However, Scott employs severely hard shadows in much of the book, and at times it’s rather difficult to see that’s going on. Nevermind the fact that the ultra-heady concept is tough to convey in images (this is a book about math, after all), Scott often slathers characters in total darkness, making it a chore to identify who’s who and what’s what. Brighter panels, by contrast, are a joy. True, too, that panel sequencing isn’t always consistent: the ice cream cone panels left me scratching my head, in particular. That said, Scott’s a self-taught artist and he fares well, overall.
WHAT WE LIKED: I loved a peek into the world of chaos systems and how they create the harmony we often take for granted. All mechanisms fail when strained, even if facets of the machine are seemingly random acts of tedium. One false move and you’re left with utter chaos. The fact is, because of this book, I will always consider the possibility of an entire city existing within a crackable formula as a possibility. That’s cool, and Soule is totally responsible for introducing me to that.
As for the writing, Johnny and I don’t necessarily agree, here. For me, Soule’s dialogue really works: it’s grounded, conversational, fluid, authentic. It gets the job done well, and that’s high praise considering the depth of the concept. For Johnny, there were plot-holes which left the reader a bit confused, left to make his/her own best guess as to what’s going on.
You can ignore Johnny, though. He doesn’t even read Saga.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE: Some of the art was hard to follow. Greg Scott, as talented as he is, slips on a few occasions to visually navigate us through the story. The dramatic lighting used in a majority of the panels makes it hard to sort out details that convey the story. A few too many times I caught myself wondering, “did I miss a panel?” or “wait, was that supposed to be significant?”
Relationships between characters were a bit shallow, lacking weight. This isn’t so much a detractor as it is noticeable space for more of what we loved.
OUR VERDICT: Both Johnny and I don’t give a damn about New York. Seriously. As proud/loud Philly citizens, each of us had a hard time seeing through the sales-y blurbs of “I <3 NY” and the hyper-NY preface from the author. We kept reading, and I’m glad we did. Push past the typical blah of “this book is a love letter to NY!” and flip through the pages.
Strange Attactors is worth your time. It’s a quick and energetic read that presents quite enough original elements to keep you thinking about the story long after the final page. The shame, for me, is the way that the New York vibe besmirches the genuinely interested, universal implication of the core concept. That, and the cover art doesn’t get close to doing the book justice. The creative strengths of Strange Attractors seriously outweigh a few measly missteps in art direction.
Worth noting: Charles Scott was just picked up to replace Scott Snyder on DC’s Swamp Thing, and if Strange Attactors is any indication, we’ve got a lot of weird, heady theories coming Swampy’s way. That’s fine by us.
Don’t mind the cover, PICK IT UP.