Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
Review time! with ‘Science! The Elements of Dark Energy’

Review time! with ‘Science! The Elements of Dark Energy’

“I’m not an appliance, so don’t turn me on”

Today’s entry is a YA book designed to make science seem cool, which, honestly, science doesn’t need (when I was but a lad, I was much more into English and History in school, but I’ve grown a bit since then, and let’s face it – science is pretty awesome). Science! is written by Ashley V. Robinson and Jason Inman, drawn by Desiree’ Pittman and Becka Kinzie, and lettered by Taylor Esposito. It’s published by Bedside Press (which, sadly, has shut down), and the creators hope it’s the first volume of … well, more than one, I assume (although they won’t be published by Bedside, I suppose!). Let’s check it out!

The premise of the book is that it’s set at a famous school for teen scientists, who are too danged smart to go to regular school. Tamsin is the protagonist, and she’s tied into the Institute more than your regular student, as her father was the former headmaster of the school. He died under mysterious circumstances, and Tamsin suspects the current headmaster, Lucan Laveran, who was once her father’s best friend. Tamsin has glasses that project a hologram of her father, whose consciousness was uploaded into a machine, so he reacts as a regular dude and not someone who’s, you know, dead. Tamsin and her father have a plan to take revenge on Laveran and seize control of the school, but a spanner gets thrown in the works when another student starts experimenting with “dark energy,” the existence of which is, I guess, accepted, despite our not being able to track it. The student builds a machine to harness dark energy, but of course it goes horribly wrong, explodes, and … gives the student horrible super-powers. She, of course, goes a bit insane, and things really start to spiral from there.

There’s a lot going on in the book, but the plot is really just a fairly standard superhero plot – someone gets powers, goes a bit mad, affects others and attempts to take over the world, good guys band together to stop her, some tragedy must ensue (the severity of which varies). What makes this story a bit more fun is that Robinson and Inman sneak some “coming-of-age” junk in there – as you might recall, I am not a fan of coming-of-age stories, but in small doses, it can work nicely – as Tamsin has to learn a bit about the world, who she can trust, why certain people aren’t always who they seem, and how to deal with loss. She doesn’t seem to have come to terms with her father’s death because of the hologram that is essentially her father anyway, and that comes up in the course of the book. She also seems to be unsure about her sexuality, and while Robinson and Inman don’t push that, it’s a nice little part of the book, as it’s interesting to see someone who’s actually not positive about herself, which (to judge from some things I hear from my daughter) is fairly common in high school. I’m probably reading waaaaaay too much into this, but there’s some interesting racial/gender stuff here, too – there are a lot of girls in the book, which is great, but it’s weird that the only boy of any consequence is a white blonde kid who, frankly, is kind of an idiot. Why is he even in the institute? I don’t mind white people being the butt of jokes (it annoys me slightly, but I don’t care that much), but it’s weird that in a school devoted to smart kids, it seems like he’s the beneficiary of white male privilege. The authors couldn’t have made everyone, even the blonde white boy, competent? (I’m thinking of Stranger Things, which I got caught up on recently, and it’s neat how everyone – boys and girls – bring positive things to the table. They’re not carbon copies of each other, but they all have strengths that make the group better. It’s well done.) There’s also a bit of a strange section near the end, when nobody seems to deal with a death, and while I wouldn’t want it to get too heavy, it’s strange that the writers kind of skip over it. Such is life.

The art is pretty good, although like a lot of artists, Pittman and Kinzie (I’m not sure who does what; the credits just read “art,” but if I had to guess, I’d say Pittman drew it and Kinzie colored it, but that’s just a guess, so I’m going to refer to the “artists”) aren’t great with action scenes. There aren’t a lot of those, though, but there’s enough motion that it becomes a bit distracting, as the figures are just a bit stiff when they move. There’s also a slight problem with perspective throughout – the depth of field is often wonky, and it messes with the way we see the scenes. However, on balance it’s pleasant artwork. The characters are distinctive, and they look like teenagers, which is harder to do than you might think. Teens’ bodies are still a bit weird, so it’s nice that they don’t quite look full-grown here, because it makes their occasionally dumb actions fit better – their bodies aren’t fully formed, and neither are their minds! The artists do a good job giving the characters clothing that fits their teen-ness but also their geekiness, and they do good work with non-verbal communication. There’s not a ton of non-verbal interaction between the characters that isn’t also expressed verbally, but their facial expressions do a lot of heavy lifting, which is nice. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s interesting how one character softens slowly through the course of the book as we learn more about them, although they never quite become warm and cuddly. The colors are nice, too – bright so we can tell what’s going on, and done in a good, old-school flat style, so that the inked lines don’t get rendered away. That means, in the few instances where the colors are more clearly “digital,” the effect is more pointed. More colorists should learn restraint!

This is a decent enough comic, with a lot of fun facts about science throughout and nice, interesting story. I’m not the target demographic, of course, but it’s still a fun read. I think the writers missed a few chances to make it deeper, but that doesn’t bother me too much. Let’s hope they get to continue the story in future volumes!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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