Review: Flux Volume One
How about a sci-fi story with a thoroughly mapped out future universe of interplanetary humankind, including floating countries, genetically engineered species, an abandoned Earth and delicately balanced factions under threat, that's full of love for the genre and its influences in digital art that grows across issues to an ability that matches its grand designs? Then, prepare to step into the solar system and future of humanity forged in Flux Volume 1 by Andy J Clarke.
Andy J Clarke is a Sheffield based writer and illustrator born in Greater Manchester. Flux is Andy's debut comic, but you wouldn’t guess so while experiencing the universe on display within its pages. Volume 1 collects the originally individually published (and still available) first five issues. This series also recently released its seventh chapter, which makes now an excellent time to get caught up and get on board this fascinating series. As evident in this volume, Andy is a big sci-fi and fantasy fan with Flux standing as a love letter to the genre. Andy is also a very talented musician with previous creative expression being exercised as frontman (and multi-instrumentalist) for The Gifted, a heavy industrial metal band with a heavy dose of doom metal, which, if like me, you're partial to exercising demons through alternative music, is well worth checking out. Inside Out is my personal favourite, with some Trent Reznor (NIN) vibes. Sidebar explored, let's get into this one.
So, let's start with the art. In the thoughtful afterword of this graphic novel, Andy lays bare his journey as a comic artist, candidly sharing his lack of experience in digital art and comic creation. It's a startling revelation after reading this space saga. There's certainly a rawness to the art, particularly issue one, with a blandness or sterile quality coming across. It's very functional in its beginnings, with small hiccups, slightly off perspectives, stock image quality to character emotions and even a sort of dead-in-the-eye moment. Despite this, there's plenty to enjoy, and really it's a fairly strong start, given the added context. Ultimately it’s the story that powers through.
Issue two shakes a lot of this off, things tighten up, and Andy starts to add some individuality to the imagery. By issue three, the art has developed into a more refined experience. You can almost see Andy learning and embracing new techniques, the best example I found was the approach to lighting. As the series progresses, the talent for this grows exponentially, with some fantastically atmospheric moments that brings the art up to match the scope and ambition of the story. These are definitely Andy's strongest moments, but from issue three onwards, the fundamentals are stronger.
The cartoon realism style on display doesn’t leave room for individual flair and relies heavily on emotional expression, but Andy handles that particularly well. For someone learning on the job, it's remarkable stuff and that talent for lighting and emotion smooths over any cracks, which are further handled by the story. The CBNUK Mastermind summed it up: "One where you can see his progression with the art as it goes through and it gets better. It's slight but makes a lot of difference."
The lettering is completely on point throughout, with a great layout and approach to sound that reads perfectly. Finally, the layout for panels is also perfectly formed, the dynamic approach delivers the story expertly with some great splash pages thrown in for style, making it an awesome package.
On with the story, then. Flux is two, so far, separate stories with themes of love, loss, isolation, abuse, resilience and finding oneself. One story follows a woman trying to define herself despite and because she has been dragged into a world of violence. While the other story focuses on a man from another time learning the consequences of trying to cheat death. If these ideas weren’t interesting enough, these stories play out in a backdrop of epic sci-fi proportions.
There is a logical expansion for the fate of Earth, succeeded by well thought out solutions from humanity using fantastic sci-fi ideas that share the faintest of hints of an influence like The Expanse or Altered Carbon. It's dark fantasy sci-fi.
The crescendo of these ideas sits in a broken asteroid-inhabiting branch of humanity living and exploring the frontier of human race expansion, known as the Tel. This branch, having centuries of isolation and a dedication to science and "perfection" of their race through genetic engineering, makes for a unique and captivating angle to these events. The thought experiment behind the creation of this idea is explained best by Andy in the back of the book and blossoms a beautiful idea of female empowerment against the patriarchy while acknowledging the spectrum of gender and still leaving room to explore the inherent folly and corruption that comes with being human.
The sentiment and concept work as a really strong cornerstone of the story. The intertwining of all these concepts is very engrossing, full of everything that makes sci-fi great. Yes, it uses a few tropes but in a captivating way, with enough individuality to keep things fresh. It's a series full of love and passion for the genre, and you can really feel it.
The sheer scale of this story is an incredible feat to undertake, ambitiously so for a debut comic, but this one has got the goods. By playing in the sandbox of its influences, it's extremely accessible, and there's plenty of unique flavour to be engrossed right to the end.
The killer for this one is that it has the magic of a first volume. The magic factor is achieved by setting up a story that, once digested, leaves in its wake excitement for more. In the end, I didn't feel cheated into a cliffhanger or underwhelmed by the prospect, just entertained and enthused for more.
It should finally be mentioned that this one's for mature audiences only. There's some, typical for some sci-fi tropes, nudity and a fair amount of gore and violence. It’s well-balanced in its use, so it doesn't feel like being without certain merit. It's a bit of sex and violence sells, but it's not deliberately provocative or unwarranted for the story.
For fans of sci-fi, dark future of humanity stories, blood, violence, nudity, love, loss, finding oneself, floating countries, a genetically engineered branch of humanity, single-sex colonies, utilising a Yeats poem to add a beautiful grace to an atmospheric scene of lustful enchantment by a popsicle lady, breaking of will, secret origins, automated cryogenics and abandoned Earths in digital art that grows with ability and delivers on atmospheric lighting then you want Flux Volume 1, and I'm sure subsequent issues of Flux from Andy J. Clarke.
My copy was generously gifted by the CBNUK Mastermind Ben, so to comic book fans, I would highly recommend the full volume 1 TPB experience, available at https://www.andyjclarke.co.uk/. This website is the place to be for all things Andy and Flux. You can spread the cost of this series by picking up individual issues, including the continuing story of issue six and the very recently released issue seven. The collectors will be interested to know you can get signed copies at no extra cost, while digital lovers will find links to Amazon or Globalcomix to get their fix.
Another fine example of UK indie press sci-fi delight.
Rating: A very interested for more 4.55/5