Review: ‘Nocterra’ #1 brings an ‘explosive, exciting’ start to the new series

Scott Snyder and Tony S. Daniel’s new series from Image Comics begins with an impressive debut.

Nocterra, the new title by Scott Snyder and Tony S. Daniel, began life as a Kickstarter project last year that raised more than $200,000, thanks to more than 4,000 backers. The plan, though, was to always publish it through Image Comics at some point, and this week the first issue arrives like a burst of light in a dark world.

I have to say I went into this book a little skeptical, as the creators involved have been hit and miss with me the past few years with their DC projects. But I’m a fan of both creators, and their independent projects resonated with me in the past. I’m happy to say this is one of those hits.

This book in particular is a return to form for Snyder, as it feels very close to what he was doing previously with books like The Wake and American Vampire before he became the current architect of the DC Universe. Daniel impresses here as well, presenting the differences between the pre- and post-darkness characters and world with little details that really add to the atmosphere. Little touches like crayon drawings of the main characters family add to this effect. As light plays a big issue in this series, the coloring by Tomeu Morey is incredibly important to the book and really accentuates Daniel’s art. I love the transition as the colors change during everyone’s last sunset in the opening scenes of the book. It’s very well done.

Nocterra is the story of Val Riggs and her family, in particular her and her younger brother Emory as they survive the post-apocalyptic world filled with darkness. Val had medical issues with her eyes when she was 5; she could barely make out light and shapes, but this was corrected by surgery when she was young. This is where the only real gripe I have with the first issue comes in. As she’s recounting the surgery in narration, the sun is going down for the last time, with her family Miguel and Catherine and Emory standing over her. Her mom says, “Welcome to the real world. The nightmare is over.” Ok, I get what they are trying to do here, but c’mon — no one talks like that to a five-year-old, especially coming out of a traumatic surgery. That completely took me out of the book for a moment. Anyway, after being introduced to her family, especially Emory and their relationship, we fast forward to the post-darkness world, and this is where things begin to get really interesting.

The post-darkness world reminds me a lot of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, a book where humans huddle in small solar-lighted cities because the rest of the world belongs to savage vampires ready to attack anyone that leaves the light. It’s a nice idea, and I’m happy to see it explored in a different way here. I consider the comparison a compliment as it’s one of my favorite books. Here in Nocterra the setup is similar, but the story begins with a pulse-pounding action sequence that literally had me leaning forward in my seat urging the heroes to pull through. Val is now a trucker transporting people and goods to safety in a rigged long haul truck, lit up like a Christmas tree with lights and solar weapons. Taking them to one of the last bastions of humanity left, she runs into the creatures of the darkness, mutated animals that changed due to prolonged exposure without light. This sets up the overriding danger of the dark as if you are without light too long, you develop an infection and slowly change to a creature of darkness depending on the length of your exposure. It’s a terrifying plague-like disease where your gums turn black and you can feel yourself turning. This was really well-explained and instantly sold me on the series.

Val, after fighting off these creatures, finally makes it to sanctuary, one of the last cities left as they activate the city lights pushing back the creatures as the truck enters the city. From there we get more backstory on the world and it’s people. We meet, for a second time, her brother Emory, and are introduced to new characters for Val to ferry. I don’t want to spoil the book so I won’t say anymore, but it just gets better from there as we’re introduced to the human villains in the series on top of the danger of the darkness.

This issue was a wonderful introduction to this world and how it works. It doesn’t suffer from the first-issue plague that so many books fall into, where it feels light and nothing really happens but setup. It’s an explosive, exciting first issue and sets everything up for the rest of the story. It can be very hard to find that right balance in a first issue, but this creative team did it masterfully.

If you’re a fan of Snyder’s past non-DC work, you’ll be immensely happy with Nocterra. If you are a fan of Snyder’s DC work, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what he can do when not strapped to existing continuity.

Tony Daniel has really gone all out on this series, and his designs are wonderful. The shot of the sanctuary city in particular really thrilled me. It feels BIG; the reveal is a pleasure to behold, and I found myself looking at little background elements throughout the book. The action sequences were VERY well choreographed, and I haven’t felt that drawn into a book’s action in a long time. Except for my small gripe about talking to a five-year-old like they did, I really loved this book and I think anyone that loves horror, post-apocalyptic stories or action movies would love this series. I highly recommend picking it up. Snyder, Daniel and crew won me over with this one.

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