(Michael Moreci/ Vic Malhotra/ Jordan Boyd/Lauren Affe/ Ryan Ferrier; Image Comics)
Roche Limit is without a doubt one of the most dynamic comics on the stands right now. I’ve written about previous issues here and here. I had the opportunity to speak about the series with Michael Moreci (writer) and Vic Malhotra (artist) here. Roche Limit has made an impression on me, but it’s an impression that reaches beyond entertainment. Roche Limit is an experience.
The fifth issue came out last week and marks the end of the first volume. Roche Limit 1-5 not only explores, but exposes humanity. It strips us of our human veneer and displays our paramount strengths and most crippling weaknesses as the faulted creatures that we are.
Taking place on a semi-habitable dwarf planet, Dispater, the Roche Limit Colony was once seen as a stepping stone for humanity’s progress, before quickly turning into a breeding ground of crime, drugs and limitless potential to lose oneself. The colony was founded by billionaire and humanitarian, Langford Skaarsgred, and his company Galactic. It was to serve as a way-point between space explorations and cosmic discoveries, but humanity had other ideas.
Resting on the cusp of a strange energy anomaly, Dispater was quickly mined in search of a mineral that would provide limitless, clean energy, but instead a mineral used to produce the drug “recall” was discovered. Skaarsgred and his three partners, known as the “explorenauts” set out to change humanity for the better, but the Roche Colony happened instead. Soon abandoned by its founders, the Roche Colony runs rampant when left to ourselves.
While Skaarsgred is responsible for the creation of the colony, he’s mostly physically absent from the story. He plays the role of the thoughtful narrator, introducing each issue with retrospective realizations as he floats into space. His recordings of cautionary thoughts are meant for “anyone who finds them” – meaning readers. Moreci’s voice is powerful and full of observations, revelations, and hope for us to change before our world becomes like the Roche Colony.
Moreci’s world building ability is incredibly thorough and well planned. It explodes off of the page by Vic Malhotra’s artwork and the colors of Jordan Boyd and Lauren Affe (issue #4). The sci-fi/noir blend gives plenty of room to explore this world, but given that it’s a reflection of Earth, it doesn’t require too much of a stretch of the imagination. Instead of creating a vast world of odd creatures, flora, fauna and exotic architecture, Malhotra utilizes familiar designs to get the point across that we aren’t that different from the Roche Colony. This decision is purposeful in adding a level of attachment for readers. It binds the sci-fi and noir mixture into something plausible and rather than turn our focus to fantastical environments, it allows us to turn our attention inward to where the heart of Moreci’s writing flows.
Four of the five issues of volume 1 contain pieces that I am hesitant to call back-matting because they don’t read like traditional back-matting material. The pieces are written like magazine articles and directly pertain to Roche Limit. The pieces focus on the colony itself, the founder, Langford Skaarsgred, the drug recall and clue us into Dr. Watkins’ background. These are perfect examples of how rich and dense Roche Limit is. Each piece reveals information to us in a way that would otherwise muddle the story in dense exposition or forced dialogue, but because of how it’s included, it is extremely effective in execution. Instead of taking us out of the story, away from the characters and the plot, it includes us in the world that Moreci has created. It allows us to learn and experience Roche Limit as if we picked up the magazine at the dentists office or grocery line. This is why Moreci is one of the best writers in comics right now. He has such a solid grasp on storytelling, he knows not only how, but when to give readers information.
The story follows several points of perspective, a fluid storytelling technique on Moreci’s end. The primary protagonists are Alex Ford, a manufacturer of recal” and a police officer from Earth, Sonya Torin. It might be simplest to describe the people of Roche Limit as those searching for things lost, stolen or things never truly owned. It’s an entirely human concept that we can all relate to in some aspect.
Regarding Alex and Sonya, they’re searching for Bekkah Torin who went missing in issue #1. Alex is searching for the woman he loves, while Sonya is after her sister. Unfortunately for Alex, he’s the Heisenberg of “recall” so everyone, including cult fundamentalist, Moscow and his goons, are after the formula. Fortunately, he’s able to use that as a bargaining chip when dealing with Moscow and his muscle.
Malhotra’s portrayal of the characters is natural, bordering on minimalist. The characters all contain unique features, like Gracie’s missing eye or unique haircuts, to make differentiating the characters easy, but they aren’t overdone or heavily detailed to detract focus from the story. Instead, they are the story. Malhotra has a gift when it comes to designing and creating his panels. He knows the moments to reveal, how to reveal them, and the timing that is most effective for readers.
Due to the multiple perspective storytelling, Boyd and Affe, use color carefully to switch scenes and point of view flawlessly. Scenes outside are typically dark and paired with the chipped and grimy landscapes that Malhotra draws, whereas scenes indoors are typically colored with dim, fuzzy, electric lighting. They also use color to their advantage to set the tone and capture the mood of various scenes. Tense, action packed sequences often contain reds, oranges and warm colors that heighten the intensity. Many of the thoughtful, slow paced scenes are colored with blue and soft hues that give way to the airy atmosphere.
Early on we’re introduced to Dr. Watkins, a scientist studying the effects of the energy anomaly that everyone knows is there, but tends to ignore, like a sickness. He is put to work by the “ghouls” who we later learn are the original explorenauts to try to reach beyond the anomaly, but what he discovers instead is the essence of humanity. A blend of science and the spiritual – our souls – and the effects that the anomaly has on them.
“Wherever humans go, folly is sure to follow.”
Skaarsgred’s narration is dense with existential, spiritual, scientific, and fatalist motifs that float throughout Roche Limit. It’s all so inherently human because it makes us question. It makes us ask why? With all of our potential to do good for our world, why do we often cause things to turn sour? Moreci gives us the answers in Skaarsgred’s thoughtful monologues – greed, pride, lack of vision. By the end of issue #5 we see it lived out in the present lives of our characters. Like Skaarsgred, they’ve all come to the realization too late and are pushed to salvage what they can with what little time is left. It’s paradox of humanity. We have limitless potential, but are limited by our own faults. It’s a matter of finding the balance between passion and obsession.
It’s an experience we know all too well.
This creative team’s ability to create an experience out of Roche Limit is like a prog-rock album. It has its peaks, it has its valleys, but those variations are at the root of the dynamisms of the story. They work together to complete Roche Limit and provide a full experience, not just moments. Moreci’s knack for well-paced storytelling allows those for the parts to fit together like an Opeth album, melding together with Malhotra’s depictions of the broken society and Boyd and Affe’s ability to bring life into the life-draining colony. When you get a team that works as one and compliments each other as well as this one, you don’t just get a comic. You get something special -an experience.
I encourage you to read Roche Limit and take a step back and reflect. The first trade paperback is being released in March and will give plenty of time to catch up before the second arc “Clandestiny” begins. Come find yourself.