First Law of Mad Science reads like a riff on a Fantastic Four comic through the lens of HP Lovecraft. The Lovecraft angle is fairly pronounced (there is a quote by him on the back of issue one), however the Fantastic Four angle came to me because I have a weird brain and after reading issue one I started wondering what the state of comics would look like if Stan Lee had actually known anything about science when he was (along with Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, and more people than I can name here) creating the early Marvel titles. I suspect if he did we would have a lot more titles along the lines of “The Amazing Spider-Tumor” or “The Eleven Toes and Webbed Fingers-Men” on the rack each month. Though I also suspect those wouldn’t sell all that well.
Now what this has to do with First Law of Mad Science is that those early Fantastic Four comics have the signs of a barely restrained chaos embodied by the likes of Galactus and the Negative Zone. Those ideas would fall right into place with Lovecraft’s mythos and belief that humanity’s influence in the Universe is much smaller than we would like to admit, and at its core I think those elements are what First Law of Mad Science is building on, even if on its own the book never reaches the heights of its influences.
Writers Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz craft the story around the Baker family, husband and wife and celebrity scientists George and Emma, their son and scientific prodigy Hank, and their daughter/Cyborg R.A.I.C.H.E.L. The family unit element was definitely a big part of the connection to the Fantastic Four for me, but we’re given small hints that the familial bond isn’t quite as strong as they would like. George is a workaholic and Emma seems fairly aloof about the distance their work puts on the family while Hank has some fairly noticeable nervous tics and R.A.I.C.H.E.L seemingly has a small superiority complex. There is love between them to be sure, but they all have enough flaws to work through.
The main crux of the story though comes from George’s new invention Cyber Eyes, which leads to a unintentionally funny Q & A session where someone asks if George should be playing God with an invention that is essentially contact lenses combined with a flip cam. Anyway after Cyber Eyes is released to the general public things get….weird, and suddenly we enter full blown Lovecraft territory with invisible creatures, ancient civilizations, and hints at a massive conspiracy. Okay, now if you get right down to it these first two issues are good, but being good doesn’t necessarily stop them from being rough reads.
My first problem is while the first two issues are generally well paced, they fall into the trap of way too much dialogue on any given page. It never gets to the point where it’s overshadowing the artwork, but there’s still a lot of it and not enough of it is memorable enough to justify being there. It could have done from a good edit (though it could also just be an instance of co-writers Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz learning how to split the bill). The result, as it stands, is that while you get the plot and most of the characterizations well enough, if your looking for some memorable smaller moments between characters you won’t find them.
Secondly, I felt like the book might also take a bit too much from its source material. Like I said earlier, the Lovecraft influenced is pronounced pretty much from the get go, but even if it hadn’t been blatantly stated, for anyone familiar with Lovecraft’s writing the influence will be obvious very early on. It never gets to the point where you’re wondering if it’s a homage or outright theft, but it comes close. That being said, though these first two issue are at times hard to get through the second does show improvement, meaning the creators are already becoming better editors and learning from their mistakes. Comics are hard and there’s much to be said for people who are willing to improve. Issue two’s smaller scenes and dialogue are still largely unmemorable, but on the whole it manages to include some interesting set pieces while hinting at an undercurrent of chaos and fear first given form from Lovecraft’s pen, while showing a scope to the larger story that is very impressive.
The artwork by Daniel Lapham in these two issues are solid, though it isn’t the most dynamic thing I’ve ever seen. But it does have a strong emphasis on fundamental craftsmanship and storytelling and that goes a long way. Interestingly, the biggest thing that hurts the art in issue one is that the paper stock makes the art sink instead of pop, but obviously the creators recognized that too and it’s improved drastically with issue two. Lapham gives the book an atmosphere that works for this kind of book and he’s able to lay out scenes in office building and ancient cavernous cities with equal aplomb. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel but he gets the job done and frankly nowadays that’s pretty admirable.
Reading First Law of Mad Science comes at a strange time for me in my comics reading life because if I compare this book to contemporary sci-fi comics like The Manhattan Projects or Prophet it can’t really compete and if I compare it to contemporary horror comics like BPRD it also can’t really compete. However, those titles have had time to establish themselves which is what leads me to what I believe is First Law of Mad Science biggest strength: given time and some support, it has the potential to become a great book like those other titles. The book showed significant improvement within two issues with a good structural pacing while hinting at things to come and if it keeps up that trend it could very well become a gem among genre comics. Earlier in this piece I theorized that this book essentially took its core building blocks from the works of the likes of Jack Kirby and HP Lovecraft and although First Law of Mad Science is not completely on par with those influences (but who is really?) it does represent a solid middle ground between those pulp science aesthetics and the underlying madness that they represent.
TL;DR: The first two issues of First Law of Mad Science are solid genre fare with their fair share of problems, but the potential the series could have going into the future should not be overlooked.
First Law of Mad Science is written by Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz and illustrated by Daniel Lapham. Its self published and you can purchase it on their website.
Review Copies of First Law of Mad Science #1-2 were graciously provided to Spandexless by the creators.