Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Greg Scott & Soo Lee
Colorist: Art Lyon, Matthew Patz, & Felipe Sobreiro
Complexity Maps: Robert Saywitz
Letterer: Thomas Mauer, Ed Dukeshire
Published by: BOOM! Studios
A review by Stacy Dooks
What would popular culture be without New York City? It’s where King Kong scaled the Empire State Building, where the Ghostbusters showed Gozer the Gozerian how they did things downtown, and where the aliens from Independence Day kicked off their assault on Earth. It’s the birthplace of the entire comic book genre, and variations on the idea of the city resonate throughout the medium, either as pastiche or with NYC playing itself in a fantastic universe. It’s clear that Charles Soule has a lot of affection for the city, and that affection shows in Strange Attractors.
In Strange Attractors, Heller Wilson is a young mathematician working on his thesis who stumbles onto the theories of disgraced former professor Spencer Brownfield. At first their conversations are baffling, as are some of the professor’s actions in creating ‘adjustments’ to help nudge the city in a beneficial direction. But the more Heller gets to know Brownfield, the more he begins to think this old man might not be as crazy as he first thought. To make things even more interesting, the professor believes something horrible is on the way, and he needs Heller’s help in preparing the city to avert a major disaster.
Humans see patterns in everything. It’s hardwired into our brains through generations of evolution. It’s one of the reasons conspiracy theories hold such an allure; they allow us to see connections between events that are seemingly random, to create associations and discern patterns where none exist, and obtain some semblance of meaning from something inherently meaningless. But what if there was a pattern? What if someone knew, through applied mathematics and a tested theory, what could and would happen to a city over the span of decades? What if that person acted as a kind of custodian/caregiver for a city like New York, applying a nudge here or making an adjustment there that didn’t solve the city’s problems outright, but gave it a fighting chance? And what if this person was right?
It’s an interesting premise, and one that’s well-executed within the pages of Strange Attractors. Soule has a love for the setting that shines on every page, and he’s definitely got a way of zooming out from the main to the ancillary characters without the changes in perspective becoming jarring or distracting. Heller is our viewpoint character but his relationships with other characters feel organic, and even the characters we encounter that Heller doesn’t (such as the mayor, or the people on the street) each have an individual voice and a breath of life to them that makes them engaging.
Greg Scott’s art, while very detailed when it comes to the architecture and setting, is also impressive in capturing the emotions involved among the characters, from Heller’s girlfriend Grace and her mounting puzzlement and frustration with Heller’s changing behavior to Brownfield’s declining health, he brings a human element that’s needed to help ground the book’s more fantastic ideas. Soo Lee also has a wonderful hand for storytelling, with a keen eye for conveying hope and tragedy that’s put to good use in the backup story Antithesis. Robert Saywitz also brings to life the connections and systems of the city through a series of illustrated ‘complexity maps’ that are quite striking, at turns intriguingly beautiful and eerily ominous.
The story of StrangeAttractors is an interesting idea, one that I could easily see adapted into film or the basis of a television series. I got a very strong Person of Interest vibe from the book, but with Brownfield’s formulas operating in the role of the Machine. If I have to nitpick, the book’s lack of a central antagonist figure does leave a little to be desired. Much like the dark lord Sauron, if your enemy doesn’t have a face it’s hard to feel like the stakes are especially high, and while it’s always nice to see order triumph over chaos, it lacks a certain element of satisfaction. Part of the fun of Die Hard is watching Hans Gruber get his comeuppance so very righteously, after all. Still, there are twists and turns aplenty and Heller does make for a likable protagonist so you do want to see how things end.
Buy It. Nits aside, Strange Attractors has a strong premise and engaging characters that drew me in and had me flipping pages, interested in learning what was actually going on and wanting more from start to finish. It’s an intriguing and fresh take on the concept of a city protected by a watchful guardian, but where another might wear a cape and fly, this one is irascible and releases rats into busy diners.