By Marty Mulrooney
Anomaly is a gigantic 368-page hardback science fiction graphic novel written by Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin, with art by Skip Haberlin and Geirrod Van Dyke. Touted as ‘the longest original full-colour graphic novel ever published’ and printed ‘using a ground-breaking wide gamut process which allows greater detail and colour range than conventional printing processes’, Anomaly also features ‘augmented reality’ pages that come to life in 3D via the camera and screen of any compatible device (such as an iPhone or iPad).
Anomaly seems ground-breaking from the outset (it’s so big that it actually comes in it’s own box, adorned with glowing recommendations from both Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford), but all the gimmicks in the world wouldn’t be able save a graphic novel with a poor story or bad artwork. Thankfully, Anomaly more than lives up to expectations and doesn’t skimp on story or artwork – it’s a genuinely beautiful and engaging experience from beginning to end.
The story is set in the year 2717, with most humans living in teeming surface ‘Terrarium Cities’, off-world colonies or orbiting space stations. All of earth’s resources have been depleted and ‘The Conglomerate’ (the result of all corporations, nations and technologies being forced to merge as one) rules over all humankind, routinely visiting other planets to wipe out their inhabitants and steal their resources. The unquenchable thirst of the Conglomerate shareholders’ appetite for greater profit margins must be fed on a regular basis.
The main character of Anomaly is Jon, an ex-Conglomerate Enforcer filled with regret, whose life is a total mess. Human life is deemed less valuable than that of a robot in the year 2717, and Jon starts the story as the lowest of the low within future society. When he is offered the chance to embark on a journey of peace to an unknown world, he jumps at the opportunity. All he has to do is look after Samantha, the daughter of a powerful Conglomerate executive, along with the rest of her do-gooder team. Piece of cake…
However, it soon turns out that the entire plan is a suicide mission and that the Conglomorate never had any intention of sending out peaceful expeditions after all (shock horror). Marooned on the planet of Anomaly, Jon and his team must fight against the odds to survive and make their way back home. Making matters worse, the entire planet is under threat from the evil Erebos and his army of ‘Muties’. Jon must rise up to become a true hero and unite the entire planet against a common enemy.
The story is well told but by no means original – think Avatar meets Lord of the Rings and you would be pretty close to the plot of Anomaly. However, where this graphic novel really shines is in the confidence of its storytelling and the detail of both the artwork and the world being portrayed. There are many different intelligent species on the planet and each of these species feels original and unique. Even when the story falls back on convention (for example, Jon and Samantha were always going to hook up despite their initial dislike for each other), everything still feels relatively fresh because the presentation is so original and strong.
I cannot stress enough how beautiful Anomaly is in its printed form (it will also be made available as a stand-alone tablet app with full voice acting). It’s a colossus of a book and the ‘wide gamut printing process’ isn’t just some fancy marketing lingo either – the detail of each scene (especially those printed on the 40+ inch 3-page gateways) is absolutely breathtaking. Some character can look slightly computer-gamey (think mid-90s PlayStation FMV cutscenes) but overall, the artwork can’t be faulted.
The accompanying free Ultimate Augmented Reality (UAR) companion app can admittedly feel slightly gimmicky at first – seeing 3D characters leap out of certain pages and perform basic animations is cool but doesn’t really add much to the overall experience. Then you realise that each of these pages also triggers additional background text and artwork to be viewed on your phone, which helps to enrich a universe already bursting with detail and scope. The app isn’t integral to enjoying Anomaly by any means, but it certainly shows great promise for the future of augmented reality.
Anomaly will no doubt be remembered as a milestone within the graphic novel community. It manages to take a generic story and turn it into something truly engaging and new. It feels fresh and that’s not something to be underestimated. For the longest original full-colour graphic novel ever published, Anomaly feels like it finishes far too soon. The final words ‘To Be Continued’ are more than welcome. Anomaly falls a sliver short of perfection due to some slight plot predictability and a few loose threads, but don’t let any of that put you off – it’s also undoubtedly the best graphic novel of 2012 and a guaranteed epic adventure that will transport you to another planet. In short, Anomaly is quite simply out of this world!
9.5 OUT OF 10