At first the cover quotes from the likes of Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford stink of hubris, destined to rub comic-book fans up the wrong way. “Hey,” asks the hypothetical comic fan, bristling slightly, “maybe if Ridley Scott read Saga or The Massive – he’d like those too.”
You don’t have to get too far Witchblade co-creator Brian Haberlin and former Pixar and DreamWorks animation board member Skip Bretteham’s mammoth 370 pages before you know exactly what the attraction is for Ridley Scott (and it’s not just that writer Brettenham is, by day, an entertainment lawyer and knows him and Ford pretty well) – it’s exactly the sort of vast, bottom-up sci-fi world building that informed the likes of Blade Runner, Prometheus and Alien.
Anomaly kicks off with disgraced former ‘Enforcer’ Jon reflecting on the catastrophic genocide that cost him his rank and haunts his dreams – his employers being the faceless parasites of The Conglomerate, they just brush the whole thing under the carpet, and the only real cost of this BP-oil-spill of the future is being shuffled off to do menial work. Given a chance to redeem himself, Jon is enlisted to safeguard the daughter of a company executive on a first contact mission, becoming embroiled in an epic conspiracy in true, grand space opera style. Well written dialogue and well developed characters are at the heart of the story, bringing you effortlessly through the incredible, far reaching setting that recalls everything from Halo to Dinotopia, while touching on issues of corporate greed and responsibility that are all too relevant and contemporary.
Ridley Scott’s enthusiasm, one would think although his blurb isn’t that long, probably extends to the overall execution – given the relish with which he adopted new technologies with the full-immersive, Real 3D of Prometheus, and the extensive, intelligent viral marketing campaign that surrounded it, and Anomaly is as much dependent on its extensive use of Ultimate Augmented Reality as it is what’s visible on the page. Armed with a UAR app – which Marvel Comics have been similarly using to great effect across their Marvel Wow! titles – a whole world of 3D animation and 2D pop-ups, background details and more open up to you – ranging from the gimmicky, to the genuinely enriching, as critters scuttle across the page, and dossiers on planets and people make themselves available.
It’s the art style that is Anomaly‘s sole, real weakness (alongside the long term wrist strain caused by holding it) – clearly built around the demands of the UAR, it leaves some pages looking like screengrabs from a Nineties videogame, and others with the sort of flat mixture of semi-3D, computer-aided illustration that was initially so revolutionary on Christian Gossett’s The Red Star, but aged poorly.
Haberlin and Brettenham’s Anomaly isn’t the first epic space opera in comic-book form, nor is it the first to employ UAR, but it’s the first to so convincingly wed these concepts with such a thorough commitment to building a fully immersive and purely cinematic sci-fi experience.