We are, for the most part, a very curious people.
Not everyone grant you, but enough of us dare to ask the big questions and push the boundaries of what is known and what’s possible that humanity has been able to push forward, ever forward to some very cool and exciting places.
All of that glorious curiosity is on display in Beyonders (Volume 1) by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Wesley St. Claire, along with some of humanity’s less admirable qualities, in a story that combines the spirit of Indiana Jones with the full speed ahead joie de vivre of National Treasure and the giddy fun of danger-laced global adventure ride, the kind which wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond or Bourne instalment.
In the world of Beyonders, a good many of those wild conspiracy theories turn out to be quite true – not the anti-vax or flat earth ones thank you; they are, and will forever remain, all kinds of off-kilter nutjobbery – something that delights maths and physics-loving computer genius Jacob Tate who in a series of ever more sensational events discovers that his interest in crop circles and cryptography aren’t the preserve of a fevered few but as mainstream as it gets.
Humanity is, it turns out, under the authoritarian thumb of The Order, the real Illuminati, a nefarious group who, in the name of keeping the human “safe” have done some terrible things – think burning down the Library of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, terrible – and kept us from discovering the true secret of the way the world works.
A secret, it won’t surprise you to learn that Jacob, who lives in Alaska with his plain, lacklustre uncle and aunt, has inadvertently discovered through his endless online observations which have linked together seemingly disconnected events.
Take the fact that Jacob believes that a climber named George who died on Everest in 1924 and wasn’t discovered until 2004 is inextricably linked to a village in England that sits inside an ancient set of standing stones which in turn sits cheek-by-jowl against the mysterious death of a man with an encrypted cipher in his pocket and ancient batteries created around 250 B.C.
How on earth can such disparate events and objects be so closely related?
Even better, is it possible that 16th century Ottoman mapmaker Piri Reis was able to make a detailed map of the United States at a time when it had not been fully charted by an stretch of the imagination at the same time as he was in contact with Chinese explorer Zheng He who reputedly made it to California some 70 years ahead of Columbus?
Sound far too far-fetched to be true?
Jacob doesn’t believe so, but even he’s surprised when everything he believes turns out to be not just true but critical to the continued existence of the world, in the same way he turns to be some kind of chosen one wunderkind who holds the key to averting disaster?
That’s a lot, right, and it could so easily go off the rails plot-wise with so many moving parts in motion, but Jenkins knit it all together seamlessly, offering up an excitingly over-the-top tale of preposterous assumptions and impossible coincidences that in the way of the very best manner of fantastical adventures feels incredibly real and entirely possible.
Beyonders is damn near perfect thanks to its wealth of tantalising reveals, its stitching together of seemingly unrelated events, people and objects into a more than probably whole and a willingness to put the pedal to the metal and not take the pressure off until the last glorious, cliffhanger-y page.
Adding to the rich enjoyment of this giddily thrilling adventure, which bears welcome throwbacks to 1940s and ’50s cinema serials, is the sumptuously perfect artwork of St. Claire who adds colour and vibrancy to a world clearly suffused with it.
Every panel feels full and evocative without being crowded, bringing out the action adventure elements without ever neglecting the gee-whiz emotionally resonant aspects of the story as Tate and new friend Narine (part of titular good guys group The Beyonders who defy The Order at every turn) come to grips with a world that is a whole lot bigger than either of them thought.
A world which includes some potent chemistry between the two of the, a low key love story that burbles along nicely next to the ever-expanding mythology of the world around us in which the things in the shadows turn out to have a lot of substance indeed.
If you have ever yearned for a pitch-perfect adventure that offers exciting twists and turns, that celebrates knowledge and learning as more than worthwhile pursuits and offers up a perspective on human history that feels like it makes more sense than the actual history of the world, then Beyonders is something you need to deep into.
So expansively and vividly is this world realised and so addictive the Tomb Raider-ish imaginative aspects of the Beyonders‘ story that its doubtful you will want to come up for air again, happy to stay in a story that is set up for a sequel, that is crying out for it to happen and which if there is any justice in our COVID-19-addled world will happen.