COMIC BOOK REVIEW: MASKED #1: ANOMALIES / AUTHOR: SERGE LEHMAN / ARTIST: STÉPHANE CRÉTY / PUBLISHER: TITAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
When veteran soldier Frank returns home to Paris, he is soon caught up in strange goings on surrounding the anomalies, a worldwide assortment of machine particles that suddenly appeared without warning or explanation, and over time have begun combining and recombining to form increasingly complex organisms. At the time Frank encounters them, they have evolved just enough to mimic working facsimiles of humans, their shapeshifting nature recalling the claws of Philip K. Dick’s short story Second Variety or its movie adaptation Screamers. Their presence is inexplicable, their origin a mystery, and their purpose an enigma, but it soon becomes apparent that Frank is somehow connected to their occurrences.
Unusually for the opening issue of a series, the focus of Anomalies is on the setting. The necessary character introduction and backstory is given largely by exposition-heavy walk-and-talks that showcase the surroundings of the action. A Paris you could easily imagine existing in the same world as the Los Angeles of Blade Runner is realised perfectly by the artwork, reminiscent of the cyberpunk effervescence of Darick Robertson’s art for Transmetropolitan, but at a point before its world became a drug-addled kaleidoscopic nightmare. Each panel is rich with detail but never appears cluttered, and many are infused with touches ranging from the changing holographic screen of a poster advert or a carton of cigarettes having Cyrillic health warnings, to larger and plot-significant details like a gargantuan hologram of a Belle Époque serial killer modelled on the Phantom of the Opera perpetually projected onto the Parisian skyline.
As well as the anomalies, the presence of pseudo-superheroes is hinted at by glimpses of the Ghostboarder – an airborne skater not entirely dissimilar in appearance to the Silver Surfer – and the shadow of an iconic pose and a flutter of red cape in the corner of a panel suggesting a Superman-like figure. What significance these entities have remains to be seen.
Although an amalgamation of influences makes up Anomalies, it nevertheless coalesces into a distinct and comprehensive whole, one that remains ambitious without overstepping itself and symbolic without seeming pretentious. The world is established, the scene is set, questions are posed, and the next issue cannot arrive soon enough.
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