Monday, October 24, 2016

Review - The Skeptics #1 (@blackmaskstudio)


"This way, into the lab, won't you?"

The saying goes that perception is reality in that if people believe something to be true then that's the reality for them. It's something that works in all walks of life, from marketing to politics. It hasn't really been tested in the superhero realm that much though--until The Skeptics #1 from Black Mask Studio. The issue is written by Tini Howard, illustrated by Devaki Neogi, colored by Jen Hickman and lettered by Aditya Bidikar.

A stylish, political adventure about a pair of hip, clever teens who fool the world into believing they have superpowers. It is the 1960s. The Russians have the A-bomb, the H-bomb, and now the most terrifying weapon of all: a pair of psychically superpowered young people. Terrified and desperate, the US top brass scours from coast to coast in search of psychic Americans. Enter Dr. Isobel Santaclara, an eccentric illusionist and grifter who has recruited two teenagers and trained them to trick the US government, the Russians, and the whole world into believing they are dangerous psychics.

Landing somewhere between superhero origin story and espionage tale, Howard writes The Skeptics #1 with a carefree approach. The two lead characters Maxwell and Mary are pretty free-spirited and act as an antithesis to the prevailing notion of distrust prevalent throughout the Cold War. The interplay between Maxwell and Mary is somewhat innocent, but that innocence is jeopardized mainly because of the stakes thrown at them. Howard uses each character very effectively though to lay out the surprisingly intricate plot. For most of the first issue, Howard takes her time in laying the groundwork for the events to come--that pace shifts rather dramatically towards the end of the issue.

A nostalgic artistic style graces the pages of The Skeptics #1. Neogi's approach embellishes the characters with looks contextually appropriate given the setting and it's easy for the reader to put themselves alongside the characters. The representatives of the US government are illustrated with an imposing presence that makes it more believable they'd be willing to do whatever it takes to find people with abilities to combat the Russians. The panels are laid out pretty cleanly, yet Neogi does some great insets and overlays when comparing the "abilities" of Maxwell and Mary to one another. Hickman's colors add a time-worn effect and helps further the book's throwback appeal.

The Skeptics #1 is an interesting approach to the superhero genre. Maxwell and Mary are powerful tricksters for sure, but that power doesn't necessarily come from any strange abilities. Howard creates their abilities as a response to the Cold War as the relatively interesting bit of history that it was: an arms race between the US and Russia to claim a "dominance" over the world. Neogi's artwork is slick and fits the book's angles very well. The Skeptics #1 is a pretty fun first issue that offers a new take on old concepts.

The Skeptics #1 is in stores October 26.

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