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Paranoia and Chaos Converge in Strange Attractors #1

Comics Reviews
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Paranoia and Chaos Converge in <i>Strange Attractors</i> #1

Writer: Charles Soule
Artists: Greg Scott & Soo Lee
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Release Date: June 1, 2016

STL007194.jpg A good paranoid thriller can unsettle and pique any mind. When done well, as on television series like Mr. Robot or the late, lamented Rubicon, these stories tap into modern anxieties, unleashing plot twists that leave the reader on unsteady narrative ground. When done cheaply, they sacrifice character development for a less effective “anything can happen” uncertainty. Strange Attractors, an early-career Charles Soule graphic novel published by Archaia, now rereleased by the imprint’s parent publisher BOOM! Studios as a five-issue series with new content, fits into the latter camp soundly, with mysterious theories, obsessions and a disparate group of characters wrestling with events capsizing the city around them.

The first issue begins with a man named Jenkins lecturing a Columbia University class about the underlying fragility of cities’ societal order. He discusses the grocery stores and bodegas on which residents rely, and then takes a chilling rhetorical turn: “If the supply were ever to cease,” he says, “we would see riots in fifteen days, starvation in a month.” Soon enough, Jenkins exits the narrative in horrific fashion, overwhelmed by paranoia and an avalanche of cause-and-effect portents.

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Strange Attractors #1 Interior Art by Greg Scott

In response, perplexing and distressing erratica echo throughout the issue: a strange and animalistic sound emits from an academic’s briefcase, the mayor of New York disturbed by hidden fault lines emerging in his city. A pervasive sense of unease runs through the script; though whether it’s the result of quotidian 21st -century stresses or something more sinister remains to be seen.

Dr. Spencer Brownfield enters this emerging chaos with morally ambiguous intentions: a brilliant thinker, he’s also prone to setting rats free in restaurants. “It’s always for the city,” he says to a potential assistant. His history involves some murkier activities; in a short backup story drawn by Soo Lee, the reader is introduced to a younger version of Brownfield standing atop the World Trade Center in 1981, taking part in an ostensibly idealistic activity that backfires.

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Strange Attractors #1 Interior Art by Greg Scott

Many of the book’s scenes only occupy a few pages, and some succeed more than others. A conversation among a trio of friends checking out some live music tilts too heavily into the expository, even as it supplies integral context about Jenkins’s background and fate. But largely, the mysteries that this issue teases are handled effectively, with a good blend of headiness and visceral thrills. The art in each storyline is also solid, serving the complicated high concept well. Both Lee and original artist Greg Scott display a firm grasp on expressive faces and body language—a must for a book so reliant on human interaction.

The first issue of this former graphic novel establishes a host of seemingly disparate situations, and a milieu in which the story could head in a host of directions. Will this “upgraded” Strange Attractors be a more personal thriller, or will—as Jenkins’s opening monologue, and references to Hurricane Katrina and the World Trade Center suggest—the conflict become full-tilt cataclysmic? So far, Soule, Scott and Lee reveal an effective narrative hook, as well as some ominous thematic ground to cover in future issues.