Val Briggs is one of the best ferrymen there is. What compels her to put her life on the line against the Shades – and to take on a particularly risky run? Find out in Nocterra #1 from Image Comics!
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Tony S. Daniel
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Andworld Design
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: March 3, 2021
Previously in Nocterra: Ten years ago, life on Earth went from normal to plunged into darkness. And that darkness changes anything caught in it into a monstrous creature known as a Shade. To survive, people have to stay close to an artificial light source. And how does anyone get from place to place? Enter Val Riggs, a “ferryman,” someone who transports people and goods along the darkened roads.
REMEMBERING THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGED
While the main action of Nocterra #1 is set thirteen years after the “Big PM,” the story opens on the day of that event. Val Riggs is the narrator, and she was in fifth grade at the time. She was drawing a picture of her family, which allows her to segue into recalling her adoption – and the fact that she was born blind. Her condition was correctable with surgery, which she had shortly after her arrival in the States. She also had an adoptive brother, Emory, whom she is still close to.
The “Big PM,” it transpires, is the day when the light of the sun was blotted out across the Earth. The sky rapidly became dark. And not even the stars were visible.
The main story begins in earnest with Val driving her semi toward an outpost in Colorado. As she drives, she talks with her brother over the radio to keep him posted on her status, but she keeps asking him about something he seems to be trying to avoid talking about. Then she tells her passengers that there are Shades ahead of them in much the same way a pilot tells passengers about turbulence. She is a cool customer.
The truck is attacked by some strange creatures that throw themselves onto it, clinging to it with sucker feet. One of the passengers freaks out, opens the door, and is dragged outside. The door won’t close after her, and Val must put the truck on autopilot and go out herself to try to fix things. This is where we first see the Shades, the creatures in the darkness, and learn about the infection, caused by being in that dark, that turns animals and people into the Shades. Sometimes the infection can be cured by dialysis or a solar lamp. And we see firsthand how bright light can disperse the Shades.
Val returns to Outpost 41, once a town famous for manufacturing lightbulbs, now a hub for ferrymen like her. She’s stopping to pick up her pay and make another run until she finds out that the town she was headed for has gone dark. She needs another run, but her boss won’t give her one until she clears up something that’s happening with her brother.
On her way home, and older man with his young granddaughter stops her, looking for transport. The careful reader (and I only caught it on my second read) will recognize them as having ridden in with Val. The man shows her what he claims is real sunburn, that he knows a place with light, but he doesn’t have cash up front. Val turns them down.
Finally she arrives home where her brother Emory works on light-based weapons for her. She knows he sneaked out of the Outpost. He claims they saw wrong and that he’s fine. She insists on checking his gums for the infection. His gums are turning dark and dialysis is not working for him. She needed to go to Tipton to get a solar lamp and now that’s out of the picture. Val takes the job for the man with the granddaughter, and has no idea that someone else is now looking for her.
A WORLD PLUNGED INTO STARLESS NIGHT
Nocterra #1 takes place on Earth, but on a dark and different Earth. The whole book, with the exception of the opening flashback, feels bathed in artificial light. Some scenes are bluish, such as the outdoor scenes and the dramatic fight on and around the truck. Others, like the scenes in town, have a yellowish cast, but it is not the yellow of natural light. I would think things would look a lot colder, especially in Colorado. While people are wearing winter jackets, many are also wearing shorts, skirts or short sleeves. The dystopian mix of fashion in the background adds flavor to the scene.
The thing that gives this book a distinctive feel, though, is the use of lights all over. People traveling have their own personal lights. They look like strings of LED lights, although some people also have glowing strips, which gives them a dissonantly festive look. The Outpost is also strung with lights. I’ve not seen a world quite like this one before. Usually anyplace with such a variety of lights everywhere could not help but look cheerful, but this world looks unrelentingly gritty.
BOTTOM LINE: ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
Nocterra #1 takes some of the action flair of “Mad Max” and throws it deep into the dark, which gives the story a different, even slightly sinister flavor. While the book benefits from two reads to put details together, it is gripping right out of the gate.
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Val Riggs knows what life in darkness is like, and she is one of the few with the nerve to travel among the Shades.