Val’s job of transporting two people makes her the target of Blacktop Bill. What does he want with them, and are they who they said they were? Find out in Nocterra #3 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: May 5, 2021
Previously in Nocterra: Val Riggs drives through the dark with two passengers and her brother Emory, all in the hopes of getting enough money to cure Emory. She stops at the Neon Grove to recharge, and her male passenger (Dr. Augustus McCray) talks to her. He claims to be on a mission to bring back the light, but he also mentions a machine he and his brother invented to see cosmic particles, and that his machine found the wrong one. They’re interrupted by a warning that Blacktop Bill is chasing her. Val gets everyone into the rig as Bill and his convoy arrive. Bill claims he has been hired to kill her fares, and his employers have a solar lamp, which she desperately needs.
SPEEDING INTO THE DARKNESS
Nocterra #3 opens shortly after the start of the Big PM. Young Val and Emory watch TV and learn the latest updates, at the time, about the metamorphosis that changes people into Shades. Once their eyes change, there is no curing them. And they may have new and different ways of communicating with each other. Their viewing is interrupted as the front door rattles, and a voice says it’s their parents and they want to be let in. Their eyes have changed, though. Val refuses, but Emory opens the door.
In the present, Val leads Blacktop Bill on a chase through the area around the Neon Grove, swerving wildly and causing him to crash into a sign. But not just a sign – a trap. An explosive detonates, damaging Bill’s car but not destroying it. As the pursuit continues, Bill keeps talking to Val and she recalls the stories that she heard about him. He was known before the Big PM, and she wonders if he is really the same guy. The gang shoots harpoons at the truck, harpoons that suck energy from the battery.
Dr. McCray and his granddaughter feel the slowing of the truck, and he pulls a book out of his bag and gives it to her. He wants her to give it to his brother. And he apologizes for lying about bringing back the sun, but he thinks that there might still be something out there better than daylight. And he opens the rear door of the truck. Blacktop Bill shoots him with a harpoon and pulls him in. Val gets to the young woman, pulls her in, and closes the back door. At least in all of this activity, the harpoons in the truck were broken off. They are able to get away.
But Dr. McCray is still alive. He pulls a book out of his bag and offers it to Bill, claiming he gave the fake journal to the girl. Bill…does not care. Bill wants him to shade out, and he wants him to kill the girl.
Val, Emory, and the girl get away and stop at a cave, once a tourist attraction for the ancient handprints pressed into the wall with paint. In this time, ferrymen make their own glowing handprints. Emory seems to be getting sicker. He confesses that his trips outside were because he had thought he had made a solar simulator, and he was trying to bring a small patch of ground back to life. It didn’t work.
Val talks to the young woman, whose name we finally learn is Bailey. Dr. McCray was not really her grandfather. She ran into him by chance, and he told her about the sanctuary, and about bringing back the sun, which she desperately wants to believe. She shows Val the journal, which Val thinks is gibberish. And Val thinks on her past, of the kids in the orphanage who so badly wanted to speak in the Holy tongue; about people wanting to believe that the handprints in the cave were really ancient; about Bailey wanting to believe that the journal was a real thing. She who has always been a cynic wonders if people make the unreal real by wanting to.
A CYNICAL CHILD GROWS UP
Nocterra #3 uses flashbacks for multiple purposes. Each one we have seen reveals further decline in the world. As this issue opens, television is still a thing. People are early in their infections. Scientists share the latest things they’ve learned. And young Val and Emory, while alone, are living a semblance of a normal life. Their reactions when they hear their parents, or the Shades who were there parents, are heart-wrenching. Val is the cynic and can reject them; Emory desperately wants to believe them, that they are there and normal. When he opens the door and they see the red, glowing eyes, it is chilling. But some of this information comes back around later. It is a deft way to keep us informed just in time.
The chase with Blacktop Bill is exciting and full of action. There is a great sense of speed and it feels like a sort of Mad Max but in dark and twisted woods instead of in full desert sunlight. Bill’s convoy vehicles are all black with some blue light accents which gives them all a sinister style even though there is a variety of them. The lettering that accompanies this is fantastic, because there’s more than just a simple dialogue. Val and Emory do some talking, but Blacktop Bill is on the radio talking like a torturer. And through it all, we see what Val is thinking. She remembers her past, and it is constantly with her as she pulls on her knowledge of how awful people can be when she makes her decisions now.
BOTTOM LINE: NEVER A DULL MOMENT
Nocterra #3 is dramatic and tense. This is frankly not an optimistic world, and with each issue, the hope of there being a solution to the Big PM seems to slip away into the elusive darkness.
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Val’s mission is on a race against time, a race she may be losing.