After a grueling journey of survival and horror, Val and her crew finally arrive at the mysterious Sanctuary and are met with a reality that’s almost too good to be true. Nocterra #5 is full of confronting and difficult choices as Val is forced to decide between keeping her brother Emory safe or risk the darkness plaguing them once more.
Their miraculous rescue thanks to Tiberius McCoy quickly becomes the least important event, as Val and Bailey witness for the first time pure, bright sunshine. And after four issues of battling against literal darkness and grotesque, dangerous Shades, it’s easy to look at this and share our protagonist’s wide-eyed disbelief.
Not only is the magical and healing light ‘Lux’ real after all this time, but Em is also rushed to the beams of sunshine as it’s only a matter of seconds before he completely becomes a human Shade. Val’s newfound hope is quickly pushed to the backseat in a sudden, violent exchange, and is literally knocked unconscious before eventually waking up to find that Em is completely healed.
Seeing Val submit herself to the relief that Em is healed is a touching, emotional moment. But as we’ve watched over the last few issues, it’s hard for Val to believe in anything else but the worst. We share this same sentiment with her on this journey, realizing how daunting it is that the Sanctuary is in actual fact real; a safe haven of protection actually exists in the world.
It’s refreshing to see our main protagonist put on a new attitude, but it’s not at all surprising to see that her relief is met with disagreement, particularly in a surprisingly tense encounter with Em. And although their conflicting viewpoints of survival are meant to add weight to the situation, this confrontation felt somewhat forced. Mostly because it’s hard to fathom that Em would choose anything else after experiencing sunlight literally healing his body. But when placed against Nocterra #5’s starting flashback, it’s a fantastic exploration of what it really means to make a sacrifice for a loved one.
These definitions and the dynamic between Val and Em will naturally only get better if the two are on each other’s side, but there’s no denying that Em’s visions and his viewpoints strike a curious fancy. And whether or not this “battle between darkness and light” comes about will only be a matter of time as this penultimate issue builds to the finale of this first arc.
Nocterra #5 also spends more time on the dynamic between Val and Bailey. There are a number of touching moments between them, from Val letting Bailey drive the truck to Bailey choosing a call sign name for herself, their time together evokes a sister-like bond. One of Nocterra‘s biggest strengths is its characters, and it’s always nice to see two characters develop their relationship and individual merits through meaningful interactions.
We also learn more about Tiberius, his relationship with his late brother, and what secrets are stored in the Sanctuary. This entire scene between Val and Tiberius builds up to its epic climax, a final reveal that’s sure to push Val to her limits once she learns the truth.
The art of Nocterra #5 continues to find new ways to play with the threat of the darkness through evocative panels and violent double-page spreads. The contrast between finally seeing sunlight to all the past issues of pitch-black danger is a striking visual experience and complements Val’s emotional journey thus far. Daniel and Morey continue to do an excellent job capturing the post-apocalyptic setting while deepening the contrast between hope and cynicism.
Nocterra #5 shakes up Val’s faith in this penultimate issue. With a conclusion that’s sure to push Val closer to the edge and a testing relationship with Em, the climax truly kicks into full throttle. Although this issue felt like a quicker read than normal, fans of the series will barely sit still as the excitement builds up to the finale of this first story arc. It’s incredible to see just how much has already happened in this first arc, and we can only expect that Snyder will blow our expectations away in the next issue and beyond.
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