In Nocterra, writer Scott Snyder and artist Tony S. Daniel put their spin on a post-apocalyptic America. The collapse of society was brought on a decade earlier when the sun disappeared from the sky, plunging the world into darkness. In that darkness something started transforming any life form that was left out of the light more than 10 hours into a twisted, monstrous version of its former self called a Shade. Now the dark is truly full or terrors and things that go bump in the unending night.
Narrator/protagonist Val Riggs is a ferryman who drives an electric semi-truck under the handle “Sundog”. She transports cargo, mostly people, across the wide dark spaces of the U.S. from one outpost to another. Outposts are what they call the smaller places people can still live together for safety. The places that were able to stay well lit after “the big PM”, the event when the sun was lost, were the places that became the last bastions of humanity. Most cities fell in days, but the outposts sprung out of small towns and neighborhoods that could generate their own light with alternate power like wind or hydro. Any light, even fire, is enough to push the darkness back and keep living things from turning into Shades.
Everything living from animals to insects starts to mutate into in the dark, but human shades are the worst as they are the most dangerous. They live in packs, have their own language and you’ll turn into one if you don’t stay lit and out of their way. Val has seen firsthand what they can do to humans, even well-armed humans. This is the threat that faces her when her adoptive brother Emory starts to turn. He was exposed and is in the slow, painful process of becoming a shade despite all Val is doing to try to save him. Thus, when she meets and old man and his granddaughter looking for safe passage to a Sanctuary, havens rumored to still have actual sunlight and real safety, she decides to risk all on a 600+ mile trip. The only problem is Augustus and Bailey are being hunted by Blacktop Bill, an almost mythically evil man whose body is covered in nanotubes that have turned him pitch black. He and he crew (who all are wearing motorcycle helmets that look like Venom knockoffs) have futuristic looking rides and no fear of the dark.
Snyder and Daniel are both in-demand and have a strong track record together. That said, this story feels a little hollow. This is by no means a bad book; the premise is different, the art is distinct, there is a real atmosphere to the world and the idea is sound. It is in the details where this starts to let itself down. The human shades as illustrated just feel like a bit of a letdown after all the build up to them. There was more menace to the threat before you actually saw them, like in most suspense/horror stories, movies or TV shows. There are also some pretty big questions about how this world is somehow still functioning a decade into a sunless world. Some of this may be answered in future volumes, but at this point it is hard to gauge and we don’t know how long they intend this series to go. (At the time of writing, this property has been purchased by Netflix and it is being developed as a series.)
Image Comics categorizes this as a “horror” title, but it’s not the darkest, scariest or most mature horror title being written right now making it more accessible than some titles in that vein. It is a solid entry for a library that is building its adult horror collection, with just enough adult language and mild gore it should only be aimed at older teens and adults. Hopefully future installments help it find some of the polish of Something is Killing the Children which shares some of the same DNA with this book.
Nocterra Vol. 1: Full Throttle Dark
By Scott Snyder
Art by Tony S. Daniel
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)