Advance Review: Surface Tension is in Previews now and hits comic shops May 27, 2015
Part post-apocalyptic horror, part ecological parable, and part psychological drama, Surface Tension is an intriguing new creator owned mini-series.
The British Channel island of Breith may be the last place on Earth on which normal humans live, a year after people mysteriously have become sea-creatures and have wandered into the seas, seemingly never to return. There are diseases afoot on a planet that seems to be in revolt against those who have committed ecocide against it. There are also weird monsters and – as this powerful story begins – naked blue sea creatures pursued by sea serpents that eat other impossible sea life.
Drawn in a detailed, realistic style that’s a bit reminiscent of a more humanistic George Perez, Surface Tension creates a complex world, a world that’s both bizarre and realistic-seeming, alternately prosaic and verg weird, a world of real people and fish people and strange corals and a series of inexplicable and well-realized concepts.
At its core is a concept that I’ve wondered about and you probably have wondered about too: what happens when the Earth finally starts to defend itself against all the evils that we’ve committed on it? If the planet is a living organism, what should that organism’s reactions be to the horrific ways we’ve despoiled the oceans with oil spills and an endless parade of ecological crimes?
There’s a scene at the heart of this first issue that examines that question in detail, as a young couple work in Ghana to mitigate the effects of yet another oil spill. “The oil would continue to poison everything around it for fifty years or more”, the woman,Meg, narrates, which leads to this wonderful scene of real human pain and struggle, as well as a great scene setter showing the events leading up to the disaster.
When do we stop fighting impossible battles? When do we give in to the inevitable feelings of despair that wash over any of us in a region filled with disaster? And what is the appropriate, rational response when miracles start to happen, when spectacular, towering corals suddenly start growing – and is the proper response to those miracles joy or terror?
It’s a fine line, one that will in some ways be a Rorchach test for everyone who thinks about the disaster and reacts to the events at the center of this story. One of the most interesting aspects of Gunn’s approach to his comic is how the disaster triggers a strange sort of English pastoral survival. The plucky men and women of Breith create their own loose society, with firm plans for farming and social life. There’s a church, and a new religion has sprung up around the crisis. It appears to be a strange and cultish religion, but the survivors tolerate the religion in the proper sort of British way, a liberal embrace of others beliefs. As one survivor says, “We live in a new world. People look to new gods. They pay their respect in their way.”
It’s in a moment like that one that we can see why Surface Tension is such an intriguing new series. Though he’s a first-time comics creator (at least as far as I can tell – please comment me if I’m wrong!), Gunn has created a complex and fully-realized sends of place. He’s done a tremendous amount of world-building, considering all the implications of the concepts that he’s exploring. As such, Surface Tension has a richness and depth that acts as the thoughtful background for an intriguing story.
I’m sick to death of post-apocalyptic dramas, but Surface Tension cuts through my cynicism with a smartly-designed, highly detailed world. It also delivers a lot of drama, both interpersonal and with giant sea creatures eating people. It’s high and low. It’s an auspicious debut.