By Frank J. Barbiere, Colin Lorimer and Micah Kaneshiro
It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s shrouded in mystery and there’s a cell phone or two stuck in there somewhere. It’s also pretty freaking fun, even when several key elements remain elusive. Blackout volume 1 is a frenetic and imaginative high-concept comic with tons of potential. While it does withhold a great deal of information, some to its detriment, it also unleashes some stunning visuals at a feverish pace. Frank J. Barbiere, Colin Lorimer and Micah Kaneshiro introduce you to a story about a regular guy looking to fill the void in his life by jumping into an even bigger one.
Scott Travers isn’t an adrenaline junkie per se; rather he’s still looking for the right challenge or adventure to give him fulfillment. He never knew his father, as his mother refused to discuss him, and he’s always been a bit of an underachiever, never giving his all for fear that it wasn’t the right choice. The closest thing to a father figure was his “Uncle Bob” whom, until recently, Scott worked alongside as a lab assistant for Avenir Microanalytics. Then Uncle Bob disappeared and Scott’s got a doohickey of a new suit showing up at his door with an ominous note reading “Find Me.” Now he gets to play Portal in real life except instead of brain twisters from GLaDOS, Scott’s getting shot by giant mech suits piloted by angry Aryans all while trying to get to the bottom of Bob’s disappearance. And he doesn’t really have any idea how his suit works either, so you could say there are still some snags to work out before he resembles anything close to a superhero. He’d be the first to agree with that analysis, but for the first time in his living-on-the-edge life, he’s finally found some purpose.
With Blackout, Barbiere has a killer premise on his hands that’s ripe for visual storytelling: a learning on the job hero (?) that can create circular portals into a co-existing shadow dimension. There’s a big cool factor in that particular power, but it’s smartly mixed with the Peter Parker “how did I get myself into this” real guy characterization. He gives Scott a solid motivation and just enough background development to make it believable, but leaves lots of room for further growth. For now, Scott’s a likable and familiar character; he wants to do the right thing, he makes some bad decisions and he’s got a good sense of humor about his unbelievable situation. There are great moments that feel a lot like those flashback scenes from Ex Machina, specifically when Scott goes out to the desert to try and hone his skills only to have his ignorance put him in peril. Barbiere handles his dialogue very well, as he does with most of the supporting cast, but the narrative as a whole is walking the tightrope between trying to maintain intrigue to keep a reader coming back and not revealing enough information to pull the reader in. For some, the vagueness of Bob’s character or the sequence of events up until this point or heck, who Ash even is in relation to Scott, might be information gaps too large to leap. Scott’s willing partner, Ash, serves as a fun enabler and comic relief, but there’s too little explanation as to who she is to Scott or what her role is going to be. The good guy on the inside, Dr. Alexis Luca, will no doubt be put in danger sooner rather than later, but Barbiere avoids making her simply a plot device and allows her to establish herself as a strong supporting player with a quick wit who’s certainly more perceptive than Scott. The main antagonists of this opening arc are also a tad too far on the twirling mustache scale, or they might not be depending on how firmly this book decides to set its tone in reality. Without seeing more of this particular universe outside of two laboratories and an apartment it’s hard to get a firm grip on what type of series this is going to be. The enthusiasm Barbiere has for Scott and the Blackout suit are palpable as is his knack for crafting a compelling mystery, but this collection’s strengths rely heavily on the visual magic that the premise promises.
Beyond just playing with some inventive action sequences that come naturally with a character who jumps through portals, the art courtesy of both Colin Lorimer (issues 1-4) and Micah Kaneshiro (issue #0) is a straight up neon-pop orgasm of color and energy. Many pages, specifically Kaneshiro’s, look as though you just stepped into a rave where everyone is wearing a suit except for that one dude with a helmet. It’s restrained perfectly and never goes full-Tron, thankfully. The dream sequences and the entire shadow dimension absolutely glow in a sea of large, overlapping panels that contribute to the lightning fast pace of the narrative. Kaneshiro’s rendering is reminiscent of Phil Noto, with detailed soft-penciled faces bound by thick outer lines. His palette dips into every color of the electric rainbow and, in conjunction with very smooth shadows, makes you feel like you’re watching a cel-shaded anime. Colin Lorimer has a distinctly different style that uses heavier black inks, but it’s non incongruent with the opening chapter. Instead it keeps the same level of energy and panel layouts, making your eye move in a flurry to keep up with the portal hopping and Mech fist swinging. The Blackout suit is a smart, sharp design and being able to see Scott’s eyes through its tinted lenses goes a long way to building his character with every look of “holy shit, did I do that?” front and center. Visually, this book needed its artists to deliver on the concept of a character who could bend physics and expectations and both Lorimer and Kaneshiro bring it with a furious passion.
One thing Blackout cannot be accused of is telling more than showing. The potential for fuller character and story development is in place and the hyper-technological playground setting is promising. In trying to keep the suspense high, Blackout might venture too far off the grid into obscurity for some. For many though, the ocular feast of color and rapid-fire visual storytelling is more than enough reason to stick around and see what explanations are surely waiting.