Nyctophobia: an extreme fear of night or darkness that can cause intense symptoms of anxiety and depression. That is the term used when a person has a phobia of the dark. As most parents know, fear of the dark is a common occurrence among young children. In most cases however, this fear dissipates over time as the children mature. But imagine that something happens when the entire world is enveloped in darkness. In less than 23 minutes, the sky goes dark. The reason for this is unknown. But the effects are felt the world over. But that’s not the worse of it.

There is another repercussion of this new darkness. If any living thing is not bathed in some form of light within 10 hours, a disease, virus, or whatever this thing is starts to take over the host and creates what is called a “Shade.” The infection starts at the gums and advances quickly. Unless the afflicted can either go under dialysis or perhaps is bombarded with a solar lamp, hallide, or Xenon. But these strong light sources are scarce. What is known is if it gets past the gums, it was basically over. The infected became a creature that is consumed with attacking those who are not infected. Such is the world that writer Scott Snyder, artist Tony S. Daniel and Colorist Tomeu Morey have created in Image Comics, Nocterra.

The Beginning

The issue starts right after the phenomenon begins. We meet a young family: Miguel, Catherine, and their adoptive children Val and Emory. The darkness started while the kids were in school. As the darkness began to ascend, the schools let the children out. Miguel and Catherine came to retrieve their children. But where would they go? What would they do?? Initially, they’re basically just driving. Trying to rationalize what is going on. Searching the radio for any news of why this is happening. But there is nothing being reported. They are literally “in the dark.”

For Val, this is not necessarily a new occurrence. Early in her life she had lived in another form of darkness. Severe cataracts for the first four years of her life had made her legally blind. She could see flashes but it was not until receiving surgery at age five that her vision was restored to normal. So unlike many people, Val had seen her share of darkness. But nothing like this.

The Ferryman

Fast forward 12 years. The darkness has become a way of life, as have the efforts to combat it with any light sources they could create. Val “SunDog” Riggs has become a Ferryman. A truck driver who transports people between the lighted Sanctuary Outposts. It is her job to ferry people to safety. Which is always a dangerous task with the Shades running about.

The weapons against the Shades was light. As strong as that can be produced. Val’s truck was equipped with as many as it could hold. Her brother Emory (or Em for short) served as her eyes on the road and kept her updated by Radio communication. But to make it successfully to their destination, it required their passengers stay lit, quiet, and most importantly inside the trailer. Occasionally however, a passenger, when realizing that they are being attacked from the outside, would panic and make the fatal mistake of opening a door. Risky to the occupant opening the door and to the rest of the occupants of the tractor trailer.

Don’t Open the Door

This is what basically transpired on Val’s latest trip. Once the passenger opened the door, Val could not get it to close. She engaged the Auto-drive on her Rig and took on the Shades using all of the light producing weapons that her brother Emory had created for her. All the while the tractor trailer moved closer and closer to the Sanctuary. As Val fought them off, they eventually got close enough for Val to use her flares. This enabled the Sanctuary to locate her and light up their intense Spotlights that drove the Shades away. It was a close call. Much closer than Val would have liked.

Val’s Motivation

While Val was very good at her job, her reasons for doing it were not completely altruistic. Her brother Emory was the only family she had left after they lost their parents. It was her job to protect him. Emory had built many of the light emitting weapons she uses against the shades. But that hadn’t protected him from getting infected from the Shade creating virus. Thus far, they had been able to keep it at bay through dialysis. But these treatments were costly. Her runs helped to pay for the dialysis. It was the only thing saving him so she HAD to keep getting trips.

A Job Offer

But somehow, those in charge have found out about Emory’s condition. There is fear that he may prove to be a danger of contamination. Thus they want to restrict Val’s movements until they have resolved Emory’s situation. That was unacceptable to Val. And while her friend and dispatcher Bellwether wanted to help, she could not. After Val left the dispatcher, an old man and a young girl who had been passengers on her last run stopped her. They wanted to go somewhere else. His name was Augustus and the young girl was his granddaughter Bailey. He claimed that their destination, which was north of the divide, and would supply real safety. And while they couldn’t pay in advance, they would pay upon their arrival. North of the Divide? That is where pockets of human shades were known to be. The worst of that species. Val wasn’t ready to take on that kind of trip, especially without payment in advance.

Taking Care of Emory

At least that is what she thought, until she went to visit Emory. If Val were James Bond, Em was her Q. And as such, he was doing what he usually was doing. Trying to improve the light emitting weapons that he supplied Val with. She warned him that the guards were going to check on him for the virus. The dialysis had to work. She had planned on picking up a powerful light from her next run to Tipton. But she learned upon her arrival that Tipton had fallen to the Shades. No powerful light would be forthcoming, and now she would be getting no trips in the foreseeable future. Val considered Emory and asked to see his gums. The black vestiges of the virus could be seen. Concerned, she demanded he take a dialysis treatment. Emory exclaimed that he had just finished one. Val didn’t care. He had to get better. He HAD TO!

Accepting the Fare

It didn’t take Val long to realize that if she wanted to keep the money flowing in, she needed a job. And at the moment, there was only one trip on the table. She went back to where the old man and his grand-daughter were staying. She would take the job. But if they arrived and she didn’t get her payment, SHE would kill them. Fair enough, said the man. So they gathered their belongings and Val set off along with Emory and her two passengers toward North of the Divide.

Blacktop Bill

Back at the sanctuary, a dark ominous presence had arrived. He called himself Blacktop Bill. His appearance was almost like a shadow. After arriving, Bill quickly went to Val’s dispatcher Bellwether and asked what the call sign was of the driver who had just left. She explained that she was not in the habit of giving out her driver’s information to strangers. Quickly, one of Val’s fellow drivers told Bill if he had a problem with Val, he had a problem with all of them. Besides, his little black suit didn’t intimidate anyone.

Bill considered the man and informed him that it wasn’t a suit. It was a matrix of carbon nanotubes and it was grafted to him. Quite painfully so. At least until he had developed a tolerance for it. If not, it burned like hot tar. He touched the drivers face, immediately burning his flesh. Bill then explained he wasn’t after Val at all. He was after her passengers. The old man and the girl. Well, in reality just the old man. The man who Bill claimed had snuffed out the sun. And with their help, he would find him.

Thoughts

In Nocterra, Scott Snyder has created a story that starts with a premise that is frightening in itself. Fear of the dark has been a natural phobia for people for as long as literature had been around. When combined with the possibility of once normal animals, insects or people (some you might have known) suddenly becoming a danger along with said dark, then you have a real scary proposition. As my mother always told me, “it’s not the dark that should scare you, it’s what’s IN the dark.” Now that I think of it, that’s not very reassuring, Mom. However, it is true in Nocterra. And even worse, it is spreading and at the moment, it is not known how to stop it. At least, once it’s reached a certain point.

A Great New Character

And then there’s Val. Not only is she a courageous bad ass, but she also is a passionate caring sister. Especially, where her adopted brother Emory is concerned. That is why she takes the risks that she does. Doing everything she can to save him, even if it might put her at odds with the community if the guards discover his infection. It can not be helped. “Em” as she calls him, is all she has left. This passion along with the fact that she had suffered through the “darkness” before in her life makes Val a sympathetic and interesting character from the jump. There is a skill in that and Snyder pulls it off within the first issue.

So where do we go from here? The introduction of Blacktop Bill at Issue One’s conclusion opens up more questions of how this event happened? Who IS this old man and what might he have done to cause the blackout? Why did Bill choose to subject himself to his black suit and what does he REALLY want with the old man? If Issue One is any indication, we’ve got a wild ride ahead of us.

Nocterra’s Next Level Artwork

The art and color work in Nocterra is next level stuff. One need only to look at the cover to see that. I have always been a huge fan of Tony S. Daniel and Colorist Tomeu Morey but this might be some of their best work to date. Tony’s fine detail and his mastery of a panel is second to none. Especially on those occasions that he bleeds one image into the next. In addition, NO ONE draws bad ass women better. His Val Riggs takes her place among the long line of those heroic comic book women who not only look great, but command their situation and a comic page. Nice. When combined with Tomeu’s vibrant color palettes, it is a beautiful thing.

Also, speaking about the cover, look for the plethora of Variant covers available for Issue #1 by some of the greatest artists around. Just a sampling can be seen at the end of this article.

Image Comic’s Issue 1 of Nocterra comes out on March 3rd and can be found where all great comics are sold.

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