Review: Fluorescent Black

Welcome to 2085, the year of the rabbit.

Fluorescent Black takes the reader into the hard-hitting dark future of South East Asia where gene-tech has divided humankind into two races: the rich, healthy Superiors and the sick, crazy Inferiors. These two races live in neighboring cities separated by a heavily fortified border.

A superior named Nina is the test model for cutting edge genetic designs. She is a paragon of physical and mental health: her brain and body represent billions of dollars worth of corporate research and development. During a bio-terrorist attack, Nina is kidnapped by a street gang and taken across the border into a ghetto full of man-made splice animals, psychopathic hookers, drug addled freaks, deadly insects, poisonous ecosystems, and abandoned tenements.

When the corporations tighten their dragnet, the gang quickly discovers that this is no ordinary captive… but she may be the key to solving all of their problems.

That’s the basic plot of Fluorescent Black. You’ve probably never heard of it, but it is something you should be aware of.

Writer MF Wilson presents a futuristic world where racism is taken to the genetic level. If you’re healthy, you’re required to live with all the healthy people in the utopian Singapore. If you’re unhealthy, you’re required to live in the dsytopian Malaysian Peninsula, where people defecate and copulate in the middle of the street.

Max, our protagonist, is one of these unhealthy people. He’s deported to the Peninsula at a young age and is immediately forced to murder in order for him and his family to survive. As an adult, he rescues Nina, a citizen of the healthy world who’s never really had a life. Max must protect Nina from the evil Dr. Anja Rupinder. Rupinder is the chief geneticist who orchestrated this world. He did so in an effort to cleanse the gene pool.

If all of this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it is. Fluorescent Black’s main fault is that it falls prey to the common sci-fi trapping of having a weak emotional core. Wilson put more thought into his ideas than his characters. By the end, you may care about Max and Nina, but you probably can’t say the same about the supporting characters, or even Rupinder, and a hero is only as good as his villain.

The other significant fault of Fluorescent Black is its dialogue. The characters speak Singlish. The idea to use this real and unique dialect is a testament to Wilson’s thought and originality. In his introduction, Wilson asks us to listen to Singlish and tell him it’s not cool. Indeed, it may be, but while in a comic, it proves problematic. While you do get the occasional gem, “I leaky like my uncle’s old dick,” the end result is more hindrance than flavorful.

That said, Wilson does an incredible job creating this futuristic Singapore. One of the main set pieces in the book is the biopolis, which actually exists today. Wilson’s gone to incredible lengths to flesh out every detail. He also concoted numerous genetic ideas, my favorite being the infestation of a poison ivy/marijuana hybrid. Wilson also puts a unique spin on classic themes. The idea of a person’s worth measured by dollars is shown literally, as only a comic can, by putting totals of each slayed victim in captions. Wilson also takes the idea of man playing God to the extreme genetic level.

If there’s two things Fluorescent Black undeniably succeeds at, it’s visceral beauty and its overabundance of ideas. Both of these are achieved by illustrator Nathan Fox. I’m sure a lot of the ideas are Wilson’s, but surely much credit is due to Fox’s detailed designs and terrific rendering of said ideas. Since some of this material is reprinted from Heavy Metal, Fox’s work is in large size. Fluorescent Black may stand taller than your fancy, overpriced Absolute hardcovers. At this size, truly, this is Nathan Fox at his best. That said, his linework is a bit sketchier and unpolished than what you may’ve seen in his recent work for Marvel. At times, this fits perfectly. Others, not so much. But the variations in Fox’s style to fit the story are remarkable. When he needs to capture the grittiness of the dystopian landscapes, or the shit and blood of a brawl, Fox utilizes a post-Geof Darrow style. You’ve never seen so many lines! But, when comedy or tenderness is called for, his lines become almost cartoonish, which is so endearing. And this is all unified by Fox’s usual post-Paul Pope style, which is wonderful to begin with.

Aiding Fox is colorist Jeremy Cox. He never gets the tone wrong, but there are times when things are colored generically bleak. Every dozen pages, however, Cox will surprise you, and help make Fox’s work truly memorable. Sean Konot letters. I hate to follow the mention of the letterer with criticisms, but that’s what I have to do. There are times when the balloons are too oddly shaped, covering key art points, missing tales and causing confusion, and, worst of all, when dialog is just plain cut. It is possible that I just have a poor print.

Overall, Fluorescent Black is definitely worth your time. It has its flaws, but it probably wouldn’t be as lovable if it didn’t. Wilson’s well thought out story and the oversized Nathan Fox goodness are worthy of a place on anyone’s shelf.

Grade: B+

-Bruce Castle

4 thoughts on “Review: Fluorescent Black

  1. The comment about Singlish confuses me. I loved it. It reminds me of the Russian pidgin in “Clockwork Orange” or the Arabic Fremen language in “Dune.”

  2. I’m confused why you think it is problematic “in a comic book.” I do disagree. If you’re saying “it didn’t work” then you’re certainly wrong. It did work, the story is set in Singapore and the characters are speaking a dialect from that area. What doesn’t work about that? Maybe you found it difficult to read. Okay, I can understand that. Then I’ll just assume you expect comic books to have simple and straight-forward dialogue. Maybe you like your comic books to be easy reading? Fair enough.

    Literary works such as “Clockwork Orange”, “L.A. Confidential” or “Neuromancer” or “Snowcrash” have all used dialogue similar to this. And it worked just as well here (in comic books), as it did there.

  3. Pingback: Top Ten Best Comics of 2010 « read/RANT!

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