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Dark Beach #1 belongs to the proud science fiction tradition of dystopian futures, as well as combining the hard-boiled crime genre into SF. In that sense, its tone and style are pretty familiar, well-worn territory. But it manages to take a frankly outlandish concept, make it work, and set up a compellingly bleak society, intriguing central characters, and a mystery that whets the appetite. And, like the best dystopian stories, it effectively uses a noir atmosphere and mood to good effect.
In the year 2355, Earth has been floating through space for three hundred years. In the 21st century, radiation from the sun began destroying life across the planet, so humanity banded together to create a way to launch Earth out of orbit and away from its star. Building a massive domed habitat off the coast of Iceland powered by geothermic energy, the human race lives an aimless existence. It’s in this society that we meet Gordo, a black market photographer who stumbles across a murder that he can’t let go of that seems to revolve around the mythos of the Old Sun.
“Dark Beach” was created by Michael J. Ruiz-Unger, with a story by Ruiz-Unger, Tucker Tota and Matthew Mongelia. The final script was written by Tota, with Sebastian Pirix on art chores, assisted by Ray Jones on colors. With all that input, it’s remarkable that the result is such a cohesive whole, a strong central idea with a singular vision that supports the cynical, hard-boiled tone of the narrative. Gordo is a perfect protagonist for a noir-influenced dystopian story. He’s a depressed and shady loser who barely gets the through the day but can’t let go of the mystery he stumbles across. Like a lot of figures in these kinds of stories, he’s looking for meaning and purpose to his life, and in that he represents one of the more interesting concepts at the center of Dark Beach #1; namely, if your own sun is trying to kill you, what exactly is the point of going on? What is life without purpose? Is survival at any cost enough?
Obviously, this issue doesn’t answer any of those questions, but it poses them well, and it does so wrapped around a compelling opening chapter of a murder mystery that the reader can already sense has far-reaching implications for this society. It’s not too developed at this point, but then, the opening chapter of a murder mystery isn’t supposed to develop much, more it’s supposed to draw you in, and the creative team succeeds in that.
Speaking of the society, the domed habitat of New Reykjavik is both ludicrous and fascinating. I never quite lost the feeling that there’s simply no way any of this habitat would work, let alone stand for three centuries. I suppose that’s a bit of a failing of the script in that it doesn’t do enough to help me suspend my disbelief. But it was a mild drawback in my opinion, because the setting is also singular and compelling. I’m less concerned about how the technology works and more interested in how their society is structured, how these people go on year after year with artificial sunlight, weird VR tech, strange drugs and what can only be crushing purposelessness. I wouldn’t call the vibe of “Dark Beach” a laugh a minute, but it does offer you a look into a world that I’ve never quite seen depicted in SF in this way.
I do also think that there’s a bit of a pacing issue in the book. It moves pretty quickly from scene to scene, and that’s good but there’s few moments where I wish the issue had a little more breathing space to let things land just a panel or two more. An extra page would have done it. This is a really minor thing, though, and finishing an issue wanting it to have lasted a little longer is not the worst thing.
The art by Pirix is really good, embracing the noir overtones to create a shadowy, threatening and bleak mood. It’s nice to see this stylistic choice be dictated by the setting rather than just an aesthetic choice. In a lot of film noir, the high contrast black and white is an artistic choice, but “Dark Beach” makes the noir lighting a result of the environment. Rarely seen it done quite that way. And that, of course, makes colorist Ray Jones all the more vital. Jones knows when to amp up the colors and when to make things as murky as they ought to be. The art overall goes a long way to establishing the mood of the book.
All in all, despite its slightly unbelievable concept and very minor pacing issues, Dark Beach #1 is an intriguing and original debut for any fans of noir storytelling, dystopian SF, or both. It promises to be a hard-boiled walk down futuristic streets lit by anything but the light of day. And I’m giving the book an 8/10
Head over to www.darkbeachcomic.com to buy issue 1 or learn more.