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Graphic Novel Friday: An Anomaly in Science Fiction Storytelling

One thing you can’t accuse Anomaly of is lack of ambition. This oversized, 368-page science fiction/fantasy extravaganza by Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin is billed as the longest full-color graphic novel ever. Coming to readers in November, it also features bleeding-edge tech in the form of an app that allows you to access over 50 extra images and other perks.

But it’s not just the size of Anomaly and the extras—the scope of the story matches the ambition. In a future in which most humans live in floating terrarium space colonies due to Earth’s continuing decay, the Conglomerate is a pseudo-corporation entity that rules ruthlessly. The main character Jon—although the book features a cast of many—is an ex Conglomerate enforcer who once inadvertently sparked the genocide of an alien race and has been living with the guilt ever since. Now, he’s given a second chance on a new mission for the Conglomerate that signals a change in tactics: not going in with a boot on the throat but in a more peaceful way.

The basic objective of the mission is to make contact with the intelligent races on the planet of Anomaly, which is where the fantasy element kicks in. Normal technology doesn’t work here, and thus the mission and Jon are thrust into a world that has much more to do with Middle Earth and similar fantasy settings than with science fiction. There’s even the equivalent of magic to some extent (along with mind-reading). It’s a bold move by the creators of Anomaly, to mix their genres so dramatically, but it works because it gives readers the best of both worlds. Meanwhile, machinations within theConglomerate continue, providing an extra level of tension. Anomaly image 1 Anomaly image 2

Although the Conglomerate as an entity may seem a bit familiar to readers weaned on movies like Alien, Brittenham and Haberlin successfully sell its particular brand of capitalist fascism. In fact, despite welcome bits of humor, the earnestness of Anomaly may be among its greatest strengths. The creators clearly love science fiction and also love riffing off of its archetypal moments.

As for the high-quality artwork, the horizontal format allows for some very cool wide-angle panels, and the use of space and the composition of scenes are skillful. Although the overall use of color seems a bit dark at first, the reader quickly adjusts to it. Anomaly treads a fine line between the commercial and an approach that can convey a lot more nuance and variation (think Halo mixed with Blade Runner). The creators have referenced Heavy Metal in interviews, and readers can see the effect of that influence in a positive way. My one quibble might be that the clothing, armor, and other “props” used by the inhabitants of Anomaly felt a bit over-familiar. (This also corresponds to a kind of weird “CGI” effect during some fantasy sequences in which the background art of the setting isn’t quite as well-thought-out.)

That said, the general execution of Anomaly is rather breathtaking. The interesting storyline and compelling characters lie at the heart of its success, but the clever use of technology and the sheer beauty of the physical book don’t hurt. Anomaly comes highly recommended for any science fiction or fantasy fan. It’ll also be interesting to see what these talented creators do next.

--Jeff VanderMeer

 

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