When bad things happen, parents try their best to explain things to their children in ways to not scare them. Their explanations might be not exactly candid, but there will be plenty of time later for them to grow up and deal with the harsh realities of life. In the meantime, when the world goes dark, why can’t it be the precursor to heaven? At least that is the explanation that Val and Emory’s parents gave them when lights went out. Val, as the older of the two children, knew this was not the case. But she was Em’s big sister so she didn’t squash the dream.

Where Val Stands in Nocterra

Fast forward to the present and pretty much EVERYONE knows this certainly is not heaven, or the waystation to it. It is dark and dangerous and Em needs help. Whatever virus or disease that causes the Shades, it is advancing on Em. Val had planned to obtain a XEON light assembly for him, but Tipton, the place she had arranged to pick it up fell to the Shades. No help would be forthcoming there. Not to mention all the credits she had spent to arrange this pickup. Plus, the community knew that Em had vestiges of the infection. Because of that, until they had reconciled his situation, Val had been grounded. She would receive no runs to pick up passengers. No transports meant no funds. And Val needed credits.

Fortunately, her last run had included an old man and his granddaughter. The pair had asked Val to transport them to North of the Divide. That was a very dangerous route. Nests of Shades could be found there. Plus, she only transported full loads…unless they would pay the full rate. They explained that they would pay her upon arrival. Normally, she would NEVER have accepted such an arrangement. But with no other routes forthcoming, it was better than nothing. So she agreed to transport them. With the understanding that if they did not pay her upon arrival, she would kill them herself. Sounds fair.

The Arrival of Blacktop Bill

But what Val didn’t know was that another interested party was after her fares. His name was Blacktop Bill, and his name aptly described his appearance. As black as night and whose touch would burn. It was his plan to catch up to the old man and the little girl. His explanation was that the old man was responsible for the darkness. And that should have been an interest to everyone. So Val had left with her ferry not knowing that she was being “shadowed.”

245 Miles Later

Val had been basically driving non-stop since her departure. Eventually they stopped at what they called Ports. These were way stations created by the Ferrymen. Places that were created to charge their trucks (which generally ran on electricity) and supply a lit safe haven while they charged. That didn’t mean that these Ports were safe. Especially if you wandered away. Of course, no one was foolish enough to do that. Unless you needed to find food. And that was what Val was doing. She had set a trap that had captured a smaller Shade that once might have been a Dog or Cat. Since the darkness fell, these poor animals became infected, mated and created even worse abominations. While these were frightening, they were also a source of food.

As she was preparing to dispatch with the Shade, the Old Man approached to talk to her. He told her that he and his brother had designed the machine that had created the darkness. But the result was an accident. Now his granddaughter and himself are attempting to repair the damage. At least that is the story he shared with Val. However, Val found his story unlikely as was his assertion that he lived in the Sanctuary. The fact that he knew who to handle the local fauna made it more likely he had been out there in the darkness just like them. But in the end, all that mattered was she got paid when she delivered them to their destination.

Bellwether’s Warning

As they sat in the cab of the truck waiting for their charging to complete, she looked at Emory’s hand. The infection has begun to spread. They needed to get moving as soon as possible. Right then, Val’s dispatcher Bellwether called her. She told Val they needed to hide. Blacktop Bill was coming for her passengers. He had killed two of her fellow ferrymen and burned a number of their rigs, just by touching them. When a man like that is coming for you, it is best not to be found.

It would seem that the old man knew more than he was admitting to. Perhaps the gentle persuasion of a gun pointed at his face would refresh his memory. Who was Blacktop Bill and why was he following them? His granddaughter didn’t understand. There HAD been someone following them but they had lost him. He just didn’t want the light to return. He liked the dark was her supposition. It was obvious to Val that they had done a poor job of losing Bill if he was on their trail. But before the interrogation could go any further, the parameter alarm that Val had set up went off. It was too late. Blacktop Bill had arrived.

Bill Makes an Offer

Val quickly told everyone to get inside the truck. She had her helmet on and Bill spoke to her so only she and he could hear. She could ask him anything she wanted. The natural first question was, what was he going to do with the old man and the girl, IF she turned them over? Bill responded with an almost southern charm, telling “Miss Val” that he would kill the girl quickly. The old man, he would take his time. Making it painful and slow. But he would give her a choice. She could run. He would eventually catch up to her again, kill the old man and the girl, and then lock her up with Emory until the change came over him and he tore her to pieces.

However, there was another alternative. She could turn the pair over to him, and he would connect her with his employer. He had a large Solar Lamp. A Xenon ARC. With that, she could cure Emory. So that was her choice. Turn over two people she hardly knew in exchange for her brothers life, or make a run for it. Val considered this and slowly started to back the truck up toward Bill. Emory asked what she was doing. She informed him she would not let the infection overtake him. Besides, the old man had lied to her…more than once.

Finally the Truth

Both the girl and the old man realized the truck was backing up. Nothing pushes the truth out better than when faced with a painful and gruesome death. The old man told Val he had lied to her. His name was Dr. Augustus McCray. He had invented the machine he had told her about. But, just as she expected, he had NEVER been to the Sanctuary. He has been scrounging around, trying to survive just like her. However the Sanctuary exists and it does have the means to help her brother.  As for the darkness…his  machine made no mistake, it had looked for the center of the universe to find light, to find heaven. But this is what it found. Utter black. And now, they were knee deep in hell, and there was no escaping it. For Val, that was the truest thing she had ever heard.

Considering, Val made her decision. She stopped the truck momentarily, put it in gear and dropped several explosive canisters in their wake. The blast was substantial but only proved to provide cover for their departure. As for Bill? He just smiled and said that he LIKES Val as she drove off into the darkness.

Thoughts

The very best stories, especially in the beginning, ask more questions than they answer. With master story teller Scott Snyder, one would expect nothing less. The opening of this issue considers interesting psychological questions about how much truth do children need to hear. Plus the possible ramifications when the realities they have been clinging to are found to be wanting. Not to mention concepts of heaven and hell. It is what makes Snyder such a great writer and Val Riggs such an interesting character.

Her whole life has been such that she doesn’t really cling to fairy tales and happy endings. Her story about the orphanage and the game her fellow students would play on her during her blindness explains that reticence to believe in too much. It also explains why watching her parents from inside the house while they took part in prayer groups and singalongs sticks with her. Thinking back on it now, she believes they  probably did her and Em a disservice in the long run. Better to yank them out into the dark so they would be better prepared when the shit hit the fan.

I am more than fascinated by Blacktop Bill. In a short time, Snyder has created a character that begs for exploration. It will be interesting to learn his backstory and how he came to this “line of work.” As I mentioned earlier, Bill almost seems to have a “Southern Style Charm” to his manner of speech. Addressing Val as Miss Val is a very southern roots way to address a female. I myself will do it quite frequently. Of course, I could be so far out in left field that I am out of the ball park. But it’s just my impression. So, until I hear otherwise, when I read Bill’s dialogue, I hear it in a southern drawl. Either way, Snyder’s expertise in narrative continues to shine in what I hope is a lengthy series run.

Artwork and Color

I’ve run out of superlatives for the work of Tony S. Daniel and Tomeu Morey. Every issue is a beautiful and gorgeous thing to look at. Action packed, tight line and ink work with right mixture of vibrant color and somber tones when the panel calls for it. If you looked up the word perfection for comic art, Daniel and Morey’s work on Nocterra would no doubt be shown as an example. As a whole, this story has all the qualifications for an excellent television adaptation. Snyder, Daniel and Morey have laid the story, action and visuals all out there. And they are only at Issue 2…it boggles the mind to think what is coming.

Image Comics Nocterra, Issue Two releases on April 7th. Be sure to pick up your copy before they are  sold out and a reprint is required. There has already been precedent set for issue one. Nocterra, Issue Two can be found where great comics are sold.


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