Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Strange Attractors

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Greg Scott

It's not uncommon, for a comics reader, to find a moment when a character discusses how magic is science that is just not understood yet.  Strange Attractors, by Charles Soule, upends that maxim, and gives us a story about mathematics so hard to understand that it may as well be magic.

Heller Wilson is a PhD. candidate who is working to complete his thesis in New York City.  He's studying complexity theory, and is led to meet with Dr. Spencer Brownfield, an ex-professor who did groundbreaking work on this concept before stepping down for reasons that are shrouded in secrecy.

We learn that Brownfield, who is more than a little eccentric and obsessive, spends his days adjusting the ebb and flow of New York City in a variety of ways, all in an effort to keep the living organism of the city healthy.  It's just about impossible to try to understand the mathematical underpinning in Brownfield's actions, but the concept fascinates Wilson, who begins working with the older man.

As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that something cataclysmic is about to happen to New York.  The professor has a plan, but it's all pretty hard to believe, and Wilson goes through a lot of doubt as to whether or not he should commit to the project.  We, as readers, have a good idea of what the problem will be, as we keep seeing glimpses of terrorists constructing a dirty bomb, as well as some behind-the-scenes moments at City Hall, where a police strike looms.

Soule is a very impressive writer.  I love his Letter 44, and have been very impressed with his work at Marvel (She-Hulk, Daredevil, even the Inhumans) and DC (Swamp Thing).  This is one of his earliest published works, but it's clear at this point that he has a new way of constructing comics stories.  Greg Scott is a capable artist, and he manages to make what is largely a talking heads comic visually interesting.

I don't know how the mathematics behind this story could possibly work, or how an algorithm to map so many different data sets into a cohesive image could possibly be developed in such a rush, but the idea of cities as living creatures is a compelling one, and this book opens up some interesting notions for future exploration.

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