According to the Internet, a “Roche limit” is the distance at which a manmade or natural satellite, held together by its own gravitational pull (rather than simply being a solid mass), will be pulled apart by the gravity of a larger or more tidally-charged celestial body, like a planet. Put more simply - and this is providing that I’m getting this right - it is the point at which one thing crumbles beneath the presence of another. For that reason, Image’s new book Roche Limit is well-named, but not just for the reasons you’d expect. Classified as the first part of a “sci-fi/noir trilogy,” Roche Limit is ostensibly about a future human colony on a planet called Dispater (taken, I assume, from the archaic Roman god of the underworld “Dis Pater,” whose name yields similarly interesting etymological results in a Google search).
The kicker is that this would-be temporary outpost of humanity lies in the shadow of a great space anomaly, one that looks and acts like a black hole, but without the all-consuming gravitational crushiness. Like the vast void of space, however, this is just the framework of a story about a lost sister, a deep and dark criminal underground, the clandestine immorality of mad science and the cast of characters who have to live through it all.
I’ve seen this book described elsewhere as “hardboiled,” and I guess in a sense it is. It has all of the tropes you’d want in a noir piece: a dubious, introspective do-gooder; a feisty badass “damsel in distress” armed with a picture, questions and righteous indignation; a no-nonsense madame and her criminal underlings; and, of course, explosive gas mains. It’s no simple task to marry the noir genre with that of science fiction, but Michael Moreci sure makes it look that way.
Even when shuffling past both noir and sci-fi tropes, Moreci makes his misadventure feel frictionless. The first thing I noticed is how well he works with artist Vic Malhorta to succinctly recap this world’s history, while simultaneously obfuscating the plot well enough for the finer points to remain a mystery. In that, I think the creative team as a whole does good work in not delving too deeply into each genre, thus making Roche Limit a universal story, and not necessarily because it takes place in space.
I’m not a massive fan of high crime in comic books, and think the glut of science fiction stories currently being published (at Image especially) is beginning to get tiresome, but Roche Limit somehow breathes new life into both breeds, while maintaining the integrity at the core of each. That merger is also at ease in large part thanks to Malhorta’s art, not to mention some amazing color work from Jordan Boyd, who dances deftly between more subtle tones and brilliant, explosive brightness, sometimes in the same panel.
Having worked on books like X-Files in the past, Malhorta is of course no stranger to this kind of mashup, and his work here is clean and comfortable as such. One of the things I like best about his direction, and I mentioned this in passing earlier, is that it feels “real,” by which I mean that neither genre is plunged into stereotype, and that - barring a few quasi-futuristic elements - everything feels timeless.
People still wear suits, they still drive cars (some of which fly, sure), there are electricity boxes and telephone wires, and criminals still stuff drugs and piles of money (not “credits”) into duffel bags. The only real difference is that you know this story takes place millions of miles away from Earth, and that there is celestial mining of a physically impossible energy amoeba. But it isn’t farcical; it’s grounded, and that’s why both the story and the art work so well together.
If you hadn’t noticed, I was delightfully surprised after reading Roche Limit, flipping through its first pages thinking I’d almost immediately put it down. Very early on, though, it hooked and dragged me in, not unlike the bifurcated corpse of an ill-fated astronaut. I just hope Moreci, Malhorta and company can keep this story together as it goes along, without suffering the disintegration of two genres coexisting too closely within the same gravity.
Writer: Michael Moreci Artist: Vic Malhorta Colorist: Jordan Boyd Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 9/24/14 Format: Print/Digital