The darkness continues in Scott Snyder’s epic Nocterra #2, as ferryman Val Riggs sets out to bring her passengers to their next destination. And if issue #1 is anything to go by, the high-octane action is cranked all the way up in this issue. With Emory’s infection spreading and bigger threats in hot pursuit, Val is forced to face her situation and make a tough decision.
In difficult times and moments of terror, it’s common for us to seek comfort in meaningful connections that spark even just a temporary source of relief. This concept is no exception to our protagonist. Nocterra #2 begins with Val recounting an earlier memory of her parents singing hymns with a prayer group as The Big PM completely engulfed the world in total darkness. Watching through her window and out onto the street, she notices their wide smiles and loud clapping. For Val, she sees this as a facade, an act of reassurance for her and Emory. A parent’s default, putting their children’s emotional security first.
But for her brother Emory, he ponders about heaven. In a touching moment between Val and Emory, he shares that perhaps their harsh reality is like a lobby, a temporary limbo of chaos, waiting to be let into the light at the end of the tunnel. But fast forward to the present and the immediate danger of the Shades hunting after Val and her passengers is just one of the many reasons why hoping in heaven is such a difficult concept for Val to imagine.
It’s this juxtaposition between heaven and hell that Snyder executes so well all throughout Nocterra #2. Val is tired of the fake smiles. She seeks the hard truths. Whether it’s dealing with the constant threat of Shades or keeping her passengers safe and sound, Val is determined to punch her fist through glass and face the threat of her world head-on.
Val’s inner monologue and dialogue with other characters continue to strengthen Val’s character development, as well as the world building in Nocterra #2, particularly her interactions with Augustus McCray, the theoretical physicist who ultimately caused the end of the world. We learn more about Augustus’s involvement in inventing a machine that was supposed to see invisible cosmic particles from different terras, and how one error in the machine’s system gave birth to a world of darkness.
The tension and intimidation between Val and Augustus is a relationship dynamic that’s put to the test, as the ghostly presence of Blacktop Bill catches up to Val and her passengers. Tony S. Daniel’s character design of Blacktop Bill is simply fantastic. His presence is deeply unsettling, with nothing but a sinister smile to interpret against his silhouette. The mystery behind Blacktop Bill and Augustus is clearly a card that we’re anticipating Snyder to play and with the added pressure of Emory’s infection spreading, it’s only a matter of time before Val punches her way to the truth behind their history.
Nocterra #2 doesn’t only spend time highlighting tension and themes such as heaven and hell. Tony S. Daniel’s art and Tomeu Morey’s colors truly illuminate the pages, especially in a couple of two-page spreads. From the grotesque anatomy of a Shade to flickering, neon lights and the humming glow of car headlights, almost every panel features a dynamic and captivating aesthetic that perfectly captures the post-apocalyptic mood.
As Val continues on her personal mission driving deep into the night, I’m anxious to see how she faces the sinister forces around her; whether it’s Blacktop Bill catching up, another ambush from a pack of Shades or the pressure of time running short, Nocterra #2 ups the action in another fantastic issue.
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