It's rare to see a genuinely good premise come out of steampunk these days. For years now, steampunk media (outside of the harder prose sci-fi) has popularly become more about aesthetic than about ideas, a fantasy playground for people who like pop adventure stories but also have a soft-spot for novelty Victorian design, speech, and social etiquette. With Singularity: 1885, we get a best of both worlds: a book that clearly is setting itself up to be a light dashing adventure with a colorful cast, but while also centering on a creative premise that takes advantage of its setting in a potentially engaging way. Behold the love child of steam and cyber punk.
In the late 19th century, a mechanical computer is made that over time enhances itself to utter omniscience, calculating with apparently unerring accuracy the nature of the present and the path of the future. Gathered around it are a small team of eccentric and worldly revolutionaries, following the machine mind's careful orders to disrupt the status quo in favor of a visionary future born from a clockwork intelligence.
It isn't a perfect premise, but it is a great jumping off point. There are a lot of significant holes in the story, despite a considerable amount of exposition that feels like it should have remedied that, but the overall tone of the book is forgivably light and pulpy, as of yet not really aiming for harder science fiction. As an introductory issue, you almost get an impression of a pilot of a British 60's television adventure show like Doctor Who or The Avengers, albeit with a more modern, less delicate sense of humor. We don't get a great sense of the individual personalities or roles of most of the central team, but the little hint of them we get make for a great preview of storytelling potential. As for glaring issues, the lead we are set up with, not made explicitly clear as our protagonist till halfway through, is given only abstract qualities we aren't made party to as to why she will serve as our window into this world. She lends the most to the vague Doctor Who vibe I got from her scenes, a character who seems utterly unremarkable but is tapped inexplicably to join the fantastic. I'm sure this will be expanded on in future issues as a core story arc, but her character seemed the flimsiest and most forcibly convenient element of a logically rocky premise. Another knock is a common one for period set comics, which is the lack of an authentic ear for Victorian dialogue. Some of it sounds better than in other places, but there are fanfictiony notes in a lot of the roguish co-lead's "American" dialogue that tries to give him a scandalous wit but instead results in cutesy and crass one-liners. I settled into it by the midpoint, but I hope in future issues the writers aim more for less complicated approximation of the era's tone rather than the overly ornate bids for authenticity the book's dialogue is bogged down by.
While likeably written, the book's greatest strength is artist Aviv Or. Her lines feature strong distinct composition and expressive characters, with thin immaculately clean digital looking lines and well balanced black fills. It's some of the best looking art I've seen in an indie title in quite some time, confident and professional while elevating the story with animated personality. Unfortunately, there is one big ding in the art, and that is this book was published in black & white. Likely a cost saving measure, Or's clean lines beg to be given some life-giving color, comprehensible but bare without it. Even zip-a-tone or some greyscale shading would help, but the pure stark black and white doesn't lend itself particularly well to these lines, despite their high quality. Some artists benefit from their work being read in monochrome, others just feel like they fell slightly short of completion.
There is so much in here I should not like, but find myself looking forward to reading a second issue. As an introduction, we have yet to see what the story will really read like, but the pieces are set to be fun and maybe even clever. At the very least I am relieved after weeks of trudging uphill through clingy muck to read something that feels professional, capable, and maybe even genuinely enjoyable. I've always been a sucker for super-science, even the ridiculous kind, and I'd be happy to see how far this book will take us. I can still find it in myself to be optimistic. Cautious, but optimistic.
[su_box title="Score: 3/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Singularity 1885 Writer: Eran Aviram Artist: Aviv Or Self-Published Price: $4.50 Website