Stepping in a science fiction tale ripe with promise only to find it is all that you expect it to be and expansively so much more is one of life’s great pleasures.
Well, on the assumption that you like science fiction aka sci-fi, of course.
If you do, then you will know the exquisitely exhilarating feeling of worlds opening up with vibrancy and deepening mystery and you will love, for there is really no other way to properly react to such fulsomely wrought storytelling, the extravagant pleasures of Deep Beyond, a sci-fi graphic novel tour de force by created by Mirka Arndolfo, David Goy, Andrea Broccardo and Barbara Nosenso.
The premise alone is intriguing enough.
In late twenty-first century Earth, 2085 to be exact, humanity is small in number and confined to small dome-like colonies scattered across a planet which has been ravaged by the aftereffects of the Y2K bug, which in this reality, was the gateway to the total collapse of civilisation, leaving the survivors to pick up the pieces of a world that seems to have fallen apart.
In tandem with the breakdown of the world as we know it on New Year’s Eve 1999 – they did party like Prince encouraged but the civilisational hangover was not worth the price of admission to all that hedonistic fun – something strange and mysterious happened to the world’s ecology, leaving the entirety of the planet’s oceans and continents toxic zones which survivors venture into with great care and a sufficient amount of trepidation.
To say anymore than that is to unleash the tantalising secrets of Deep Beyond far too early, a problem not simply because spoilers are onerous at the best of times, but because so much of this ever-building, ever richer series depends on the perfectly-timed revelations that unlike many mystery-heavy narratives actually succeeding in giving you answers while keeping utterly and totally on its storytelling hook.
That’s some skill right there; it’s all too easy to reveal too little or too much, frustrating readers or turning them off respectively, but Deep Beyond never put a foot wrong, always deftly unspooling its next fascinating instalment while widening the world, or worlds (and that is all that should said there), it inhabits.
Helping things along too is vividly-realised characterisation that again reveals its secrets in beguiling bite-sized pieces that represents interaction between people, good and bad, in the same way they happen in the real world.
For instance, you only discover that one of the key figures in the series is playing a deceitful game well into issue one, which may not sound like a long time in a graphic novel but is quite artfully done since the full game at hand is still not unveiled by the end of issue six.
This slow burn characterisation is a great plus because in a fragmented and broken world where relationships are fraught, deceit is rife and survival hangs in the balance, even almost a century down the track, it makes sense that people would be slow to reveal themselves and that relationships when they do happen would mean the absolute world.
And that their sundering, for people are still people with the flaws and emotional missteps that invokes, would be the cause of unimaginable sorrow.
Deep Beyond evokes this highly-strung humanity beautifully, adding real resonance and weight to a story already rich in a great other elements of narrative substance.
Having fully-formed people who, even in the face of always impending annihilation, act like real people and not sci-fi tropes adds a vivacity to a story that never, ever loses its sense of compelling intrigue.
The artwork too is a dizzying delight.
From the first mightily evocative page, you are subsumed into a landscape that is both fiercely contained and rampantly expansive, well known and utterly alien, all of it brought to leap-off-the-page life by artist-on-the-rise Andrea Broccardo who brings a visual richness to the imaginative storytelling of David Goy.
Everything from the world of the colonies to the ruined and strange places that lies outside of them are richly realised, aided by the work of colourist Barbara Nosenzo who brings vibrancy to the work of Broccardo but never at the expense of atmosphere or creating a definitive sense of time and place.
At the heart of Deep Beyond‘s marvellous story though lies mystery, great, big slabs of alluring mystery, the kind that brings you into the fold, never lets you go (as if you’d even contemplate stepping away from it) and keeps you turning pages frenetically throughout.
As noted, mysteries poorly handled can be fatal to the enjoyment of any series but as answers are given and the world of Deep Beyond expands, what we end up with is an all-consuming story that extends and expands itself in ways that always feel organic, pleasing and a delight to lose yourself in.
It’s the kind of sci-fi storytelling that understands that you need consummately brought about worldbuilding, conscientious characterisation and vivid artwork to really makes it mark.
And it never loses sight of that for one moment as the mysteries of both people, power structures and society as a whole, come to be explored, dived into and richly explored in a way that makes you wonder what else lies beyond the thrilling environs of the issue you might currently be in.
A good story should be all-absorbing, a pageturner that makes the outside world feel dull and inert by comparison, and from which you cannot possibly turn away and Deep Beyond delivers that and so much more, starkly redolent of flawed but hopeful humanity, a desperate scrabble for meaning, purpose and connection and a sense that something lies outside the realm of the unknown, something so powerfully different that revelations of its existence have the power to change an already transformed world all over again.
It’s that good – from a stunningly well-paced narrative to prodigiously alive characterisation and inspired worldbuilding to a deft series of revelations that ensnare and intrigue but never ruin the tension of thrilling, upcoming discovery, and yes, artwork that sings and entrances with its energising beauty and darkness, Deep Beyond is a triumph, a perfect kind of sci-fi storytelling that brings with it an exciting sense of tumbling into something promising that grows and grows in such a way that all your hopes are realised and you know once again how good it is to be overwhelmed, in the best possible way, by amazingly good and deeply satisfying storytelling.