By Brandy Dykhuizen. “That’s it. Fuck paradoxes.” – Ben.
Time is of the essence in Scott Duvall’s Narcopolis: Continuum. Our protagonist, Ben, receives a (print!) copy of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine from his long-since-estranged father as a childhood birthday present. Soon, we are transported twenty years into the future to see Ben harangued by an aitch-dropping caricature of a Cockney thug, intent on stealing his sole heirloom, in order to strongarm him into purchasing unnecessarily illegal drugs. Rescued by a Dreck – Ambro’s muscle, with which Ben’s father Frank shared rank – Ben sulks a moment longer behind the title page bearing his father’s inscription before we move on to the meat of the story.
Part I – The Future is a Fix. Plastered in a faux-Blade Runner font over a cityscape in which skyscrapers mimic Pez dispensers, we escort Ben Grieves through the bowels of Ambro and multiple layers of security. His voice-recognition passcode, “Morlock,” betrays not only his weakness (his obsession with the last thing his father gave him), but also introduces us to Continuum’s underlying theme: a future world divided neatly between the elite and the underworld.
Ben’s search for answers is undoubtedly intriguing and downright suspenseful in parts, tunneling down into psychologically sunken dwellings, but between shoddy science and a rather conscripted tension between him and his assistant, the repeated shout-out to Wellsian worlds provides a much-needed rhythm. The Morlocks reappear a bit later still, when Ben feeds Eva a tall tale of visiting the future, only to encounter ape-like creatures who live underground and eat people.
At her best, Eva provides levity to the scene, teasing humor out of her boss while literally floating about an anti-gravity chamber. Unfortunately, Ben’s sole “real time” relationship is so devoid of trust that when a holographic version of Eva appears bearing a prescient your-life-depends-on-it warning, all he can offer is a Phil Hartman smirk until she unveils a holograph of Ben explaining that he’s sent Eva back to relay a message from his future self. Our protagonist is so out of touch with his own humanity that he will only trust a projection of himself.
Speaking of which, let’s get back to the science. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Continuum is the self-awareness and disinterest in the particulars of its science. The writers deal with the Case of the Disappearing Chromosomes by Ben declaring, “It was if they never existed, and then POOF, they’re back!” Eva similarly describes Ben’s time-hopping to him: “You were… gone. Two minutes later and POOF, like magic, you’re back!” This is a story that has a finite space in which to delineate far greater truths than the placement of chromosomes or people. Time is of the essence, and we will deal with the vagaries of science perhaps another day. As Ben quips, “That’s it. Fuck paradoxes.”
Like the researchers’ data, the artwork in Continuum is impressive but at times unreliable. Some pages require a spot-the-differences game to be played between panels to determine a character’s emotional range, whereas other pages contain characters so vastly different from themselves that you find yourself seeking out contextual clues within the dialogue to verify the speaker’s identity.
At the end of the day, Scott Duvall has a story to tell that transcends itineraries and requires immediate exposition. Overall, Narcopolis: Continuum is an enjoyable exploration of the intersection of past and future consequences, not tied down by resources wasted on current relationships or incentives. Hopefully in issue #2 we will understand a little more about where Ben and Eva are headed, and thus our protagonists shall become a little more relatable.
Written by Scott Duvall.
Art by Ralf Singh.
Colors by Nicolas Chapuis.
Letters by Taylor Esposito.
6 out of 10