Masked: Anomalies #1 is a strong debut issue, focused on establishing a near-future world that is both fantastic while retaining eerie similarities to our own. Like all good science fiction, no matter where it take place or what its time period is, it’s really about the society in which we currently live. Though this first issue at times feels a bit dense, it also evokes the work of Philip K Dick in how writer Serge Lehman and artist Stephane Crety simply drop the reader into the middle of the world, making it more a story from the future rather than a story about the future. In that way, the issue is a solid, albeit at times challenging, success.
The issue opens in a future that has recently gone through a devastating war, one that involved both strange robotic weapons of war and some kind of superhuman beings. Frank Braffort, a soldier returning home to Paris following a deadly attack he barely survived, finds that the city is beset by “Anomalies”, sentient robots growing ever more complex and deadly to human society. What are these Anomalies and what is their end game? How are they tied to Frank and his past as a soldier? And how do the superheroes around the globe tie in to all this?
As I said before, Masked: Anomalies #1 is a pretty dense issue. And from time time, I’ve criticized first issues of sci-fi comics that seem more interested in showing off how cool and hyper-detailed their setting is as opposed to hooking your with narrative or character. It’s all too easy to get so into the concept and depicting it that one forgets to actually have a plot that brings readers back for issue 2. This issue comes right up to the edge of that, but never steps over because Lehman and Crety don’t lose sight of narrative momentum. They keep the story focused on Frank and his experiences, and though there are moments where things happened that I felt I barely had enough context to make sense of, I also always felt like these were just threads waiting to be picked up rather than left dangling. It takes a certain amount of confidence as a storyteller to let your readers be confused for a bit in order to keep the drive and pace of the plot moving.
Frank Braffort is an interesting character, who clearly has some mystery lying beneath the surface, so it will be no trouble following him. The futuristic, sort of dystopian French society the team has created is both familiar and yet still fresh. The design of world feels not a million miles away from that future-story benchmark “Blade Runner”, but there are enough personal touches to give its own feel and to prevent it from becoming so stylized that it feels like a society that couldn’t reasonably exist.
Stephane Crety is obviously responsible for much of the stylish and innovative visuals of the issue. I really love the way he depicts the technology, especially the 3-dimensional holographic screens that pop up here and there, as well as all the other tech, including the Anomalies themselves. The tech feels motivated and actual. What I mean by that is that, for instance, when a solider in the opening pages uses a holographic screen, it’s not being beamed from some tiny watch or sleek doo-hicky a la “Star Trek”. It’s from a clunky big backpack that actually appears to have some heft and logic to it, like you would expect in the real world. It’s what takes away a lot of the gee-whizzery that frothier sci-fi deals in, grounding the story in something weightier.
Overall, Crety’s art is very solid. He handles the action well, and keep things moving with clarity and pace. The inks by Julien Hugonnard-Bert add a lot of sharpness and detail to the work, adding lots of definition, while the colors by Gaetan Georges eschew overt noir stylings in favor of a bold palette that is actually on the bright side, but once again adds to the working reality of the world.
At the end of the day, Masked: Anomalies #1 is an intriguing first issue, with a strong central concept supported by a ton of additional mysteries and threads that are yet to be revealed. The compelling characters and effective structure of the issue serve to entice readers back for more, and if the issue at times feels like it’s a bit too dense, it never becomes so much that you’re frustrated, rather the reader is eager to stick around for more to be revealed. A winning debut. 8.5/10