Brass Sun is a thoughtful exploration of human nature and of one of the most innovative sci-fi worlds I have had the pleasure of visiting. Ian Edginton and I. N. J. Culbard have put together a hell of a world here. A clockwork solar system that turns about a -- you guessed it!-- brass sun has begun to slow, taking our main character Wren on a journey throughout the blind watchmaker's grand design.
Brass Sun’s biggest triumph is in presenting us with a world-- well, with worlds -- held together by an entirely unceremonious god. While this seems to set up an awesome adventure, every world we visit remains as small and petty as the very world on which we find ourselves. Each globe ticking its way around the brass sun is different in its duties, in its composition, in its goals, and in its appearance; but every world is exactly the same in having its greed, its conquerors, it's morally ambiguous rebels, and its beauty in the face of a death no less certain from planet to planet.
Speaking of beauty, Culbard has a way of taking you to a wholly unfamiliar environment before you even realize how different it is. In the first book, before you leave the initial world, I think Culbard's art is a little underwhelming. Of course, this could be intentional to really hammer home the fact that we aren't in cog-worshipping Kansas anymore. But in any case, what I mean to say is that every time we face a new environment, Culbard lulls you in with a few idiosyncratic details and then-- wham! -- shit starts going down in gorgeously rendered fashion and you're ready for an adventure. That's a mark of really good sequential art.
Brass Sun: The Wheel of Worlds is a hardcover collection of the last three years worth of Brass Sun stories, and it is a journey which is still not complete. Each year, 2000 AD runs 65 pages worth of Edginton and Culbard's story throughout their Progs. Each year has gotten better and better, with 2014's pages (Floating Worlds) really getting the story in full force. Though I think many aspects of both Edginton and Culbard's storytelling have improved from year to year, the story is pretty much a thrill to read from jump street.
In the final collected act this story begins to make you ask the fun philosophical questions that help already great stories leave an even bigger impression. Surely an artificial solar system of worlds that gives man exactly what he needs to survive is a gift from some great designer; but, is it the design that we love, or the mystery of the designer? What of an artificial lifeform, given thoughts and feelings and goals? Is this fear -- the fear of sentient, self-sufficient AI -- not something that keeps people up at night? Our hands are apparently not fit to build such things merely because we are not ourselves gods, but it seems that the only thing separating the designer of an artificial series of worlds and us as possible designers of an artificial series of beings is the unknown. And yet this renders clearly the fact that the things which we fear most-- war, famine, suffering-- are things that we understand all too well.
Of course, this then raises the very kind of issue that Brass Sun looks to be tackling in the story as it goes forward in the coming year: war is, in fact, feared by many, but it is often instigated by the few for the benefit of the few. Most of these war-like themes have been sort of glazed over in an interesting fashion, as Wren journeys between worlds in conflict without the chance to root herself in one place. The conflict on the horizon that involves SAVING THE WHOLE FUCKING SOLAR SYSTEM will no doubt bring us face-to-face with these kinds of questions in a direct manner unlike anything Edginton and Culbard have had the chance to play with yet, and I'm excited to see how they do it.
If you are always up for an adventure, are a fan of sci-fi/fantasy, or just a huge nerd for world-buildery, I can safely recommend Brass Sun’s story. Despite this recommendation, however, I have to emphasize that I am not reviewing this story in a bubble and am reviewing the product being released today, a 208 page, £25.00, hardcover collection. And in my opinion, hardcovers are the kind of thing you buy only if you know you are going to love a story, or have already read it elsewhere and plan on rereading it and showing it off for the rest of your life. If you're heeding my recommendation and think Brass Sun is worth a shot, buy it digitally at £9.99, or wait for the paperback.
Writer: Ian Edginton Artist: I.N.J. Culbard Publisher: 2000 AD Price: Hardcover £25.00 / Digital £9.99 Release Date: 12/3/14