An old idea, a refreshing new take. That’s how I would describe Beyond Real upon reading the first issue. It’s been hotly debated, theorized and explored for decades now that perhaps humanity are only ghosts inside a machine, code written to perform for an unknowing god, living inside a simulation to put it simply. However, with their new series Zack Kaplan, Fabian Mascolo, Toni Fejzula and co. bring to life an incredible new look at this scenario that from the outset feels like it’s poised to be an all-time great.
The story focuses on June, an artist who is feeling smothered by much of her life and those around her, an artist who is struggling to properly express herself as others attempt to control her. However, it’s in her scientist boyfriend Eli that she finds solace. Someone who loves her and though they have competing ways of thinking still pushes her to be open and not so closed off.
However, after a tragic accident leaves Eli in a coma and June with PTSD and survivor’s guilt she begins to breakdown the walls between our world and the perceived unreality of the program binding us all together in ones and zeros. What’s new here for me is how Kaplan effortlessly blends the idea of the simulation not only with June’s inability to live the way she desires, but also her ever-building trauma over the incident that got Eli hurt. With the blending of realities you can not only see the metaphor here of breaking free of one’s mental and social prisons, but also this idea of challenging the idea of the world as a simulation with whether or not what June is real?
Though she’s very much going on a journey, how much of it is truly a real physical experience she’s having and how much of it is in her mind and has to do with all the outside factors pressing down on her mentally and emotionally? I love this way of blending the idea of the unreal with the real and combining it with the messiness of emotions allows a blurring that’s going to work wonders in this series’ favor.
It’s also because of that blurring and emotional rawness that we get these incredible, incredible pages of art and colors and bursting off the page showing the trippy almost 3D like experience that June is going through as she begins to process what’s happening to her. Mascolo and Fejzula are masters at making this story come to life and found myself zoned in on the more metaphysical pages where June was processing the immediate aftermath of the accident and how her mental anguish began to breakdown the barriers between realities. It was so cool.
As well as their designs for the computer realm and anytime June is being spoken to from the other side is just a really cool experience thanks to Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s incredible lettering. Genuinely, the first time she steps foot inside the computer realm my jaw dropped at how gorgeous the place looked.
Bellaire and Fejzula’s colors likewise make Beyond Real and exceptionally bright experience blending the regular art with this sort of offset printing type feel to create a really unique look to some of the reality-bending pages. And when we’re just dealing with normal life the colors are more muted in tone which makes for a great contrast in events throughout the book.
I’d be remiss not discuss Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering more in depth. It flows so well and I love the pages where words begin to get cut off by the panel borders as the events of the book close in on June smothering her and everyone inside the page, allowing us to see what June is feeling in not being able to fully hear when someone is talking to her. Likewise, in other pages there’s a sort of jittery effect on some of the dialogue the Otsmane-Elhaou is able to pull off that once again I say is able to show us through the writing what June is feeling and how disorienting this entire experience is for her.
This whole book is not only well-written but wholly blended together to make an incredible experience for anyone picking it up, of which I recommend you do. This is a great first chapter and I can’t wait to see where’s June adventures take her.
Editor’s Note: Beyond Real #1 is out in stores!
BEYOND REAL #1
Writers: Zack Kaplan
Artist: Fabiana Mascolo + Toni Fejzula
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire + Toni Fejzula
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Publisher: Vault Comics
Reviewer: Derrick Crow
Summary: An artist’s discovery. When struggling artist June is injured in a severe car accident that leaves her boyfriend in a coma, she begins to experience strange visual phenomena. Soon, she’s able to see that we are all actually living in a computer simulation. June must set out on a journey of possibility and peril into the metaphysical layers of the simulation to reach the world’s creator and save her true love from death.