Review by Brad Gischia
Written by: Mike Isenberg & Oliver Mertz
Pencils/Inks by: Daniel Lapham
Colors by: Jeff McComsey & Oliver Mertz
Lettering by: Mike Isenberg
Covers by: Jamie Noguchi
Moderate Spoilage Within!
It is difficult to take a premise from idea to execution. By the time I’ve finished the fourth issue of The First Law of Mad Science, I wonder how the writers didn’t trip over their own brains in plotting it out.
It’s not just the basic premise, because that is straightforward enough. George Baker is the technological genius of his age. His latest contribution is “cyber eyes”, an implant that will allow the host to have amplified vision, as well as the ability to record what he/she sees. Easy enough. There are any number of routes that you could take just on that concept alone. But Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz have gone further. They have added every possible tangle and switcheroo that the heroes could possibly come up against.
There is a secret cult. There are big business interests, dueling it out with the lives of their employees. There are aliens and monsters and industrial espionage. There is a creepy-looking haunted priory and android siblings. And Stonehenge…don’t forget Stonehenge. All of it wrapped inside of the basic premise. How do you hold it all together?
Isenberg and Mertz have done what no ordinary writers could. They did hold it together. They centered it around the Bakers, making them the focus of an intricate plot, a hub to wrap your mind around.
The Bakers are thus, George, the scientist father, Emma Baker, archeologist and mother, Hank, their son, and R.A.I.CH.E.L, their robotic 17-year old daughter. This is the core of the book, and what makes the rest of the chaos come into focus. We see the action surrounding this center, and the writers have made it easy to like them. George is distracted by work. But he is also a loving father, someone who sees R.A.I.CH.E.L as a daughter but also as a tool, which she resents. Emma is not in the country, focused on a dig in Antarctica, so it makes her more than physically distant. She cannot hope to keep up with the day to day that happens in the Baker household. Hank is on the cusp of the teenage years, and is beginning to pull away from the things that his father loves so much. Instead of seeing his dad as the be-all-end-all, as children do, he sees that his father is just a guy. Hank takes those interests that have been instilled in him from infancy, a love of science, and begins to expand on them. He is obviously smart, interested in science, but he does experiments with the effects of a deck of tarot cards and music on subjects. This embrace of the past is a mirror to the passions of his father, a small rebellion.
Daniel Lapham has talent like Silly Putty. He is able to stretch it across the massive amount of subject matter placed before him and pull it off with aplomb. It looks as though he is just as comfortable drawing an ancient Antarctic underground city and a living room scene between a brother and (robotic) sister.
The pacing of Mad Science is like watching a television serial. Each issue ends with a cliffhanger, which I’m sure was pure hell for those waiting for the book to come out. (There was a lag of over a year between issues 1 and 2) But the wait was worth it. I was fortunate enough to have read the first four issues all at once. All four issues are available on Comixology.
The creators have also added a playlist for the book, a unique idea. For each page and panel there is a suggested soundtrack. I’m not sure if they are songs that are listed to go along with the artwork, or if they were inspiration for the script. I tried listening to the music as I was looking at the pages. I’m not sure if it works for me, but it was certainly a fascinating way of “reading” the book. Adding a musical element makes everything seem more cinematic. And the first five panels, backed by Serge Gainsbourg’s breathy tone, definitely lend a certain air to the page that wouldn’t have been there without it.
Oliver Mertz and Mike Isenberg have definitely made my brain stumble. But that’s a good thing. And the cliffhanger aspect is still there four issues in. Who exactly is the mad scientist they’re focused on? Could it be George Baker, or perhaps his wife? Hank? One of the supporting characters? It’s all up for grabs, but that’s what makes a reader come back again and again to a book, and that’s why you should go get The First Law of Mad Science. Make your brain stumble.
If you have an opportunity, pick up The First Law of Mad Science.
Follow Brad Gischia on Twitter: @comicwasteland