Much in the way that a lot of science fiction has been made sleek, bright, and shiny—a sort of Apple sheen applied to AI and spaceships in more Eurocentric sci-fi films like Ex Machina and Passengers—there has been a brightening in more big-budget Afrofuturism — most notably, of course, Wakanda’s incredible tech in the MCU — primarily by way of integrating the lush design and culture of African peoples into rad wardrobe, elegant aircraft, and other technological splendors.
The larger focus of the “genre” (it might be better identified as an ‘aesthetic’ than a ‘genre’) isn’t exactly beholden to that bright, shiny, high-tech future, however. It’s more broadly connected to the wider perspectives and anxieties of Black life looking to the future—it’s a broad, growing field of artwork, and New Masters, out from Image this month, presents what seems to be an ambitious new addition bent more to the desolate and downtrodden.
In New Masters, Nigerian brothers Shobo and Shof coker create a dystopian future, creating a world dense with complex and ambitious lore. It’s a book that looks critically at concerns that have long plagued the African continent. Colonizers, resource scarcity, poison politics and more are obscured by science fiction tropes—it’s extraterrestrials who are doing the colonizing, and the resource is an obscure, fictional goop leeched into the soil by crashed spacecraft.
It’s a book dense with complex, not-yet-apparent intrigues, and issue #1 throws the reader in head-first with no handy guide, no expository glossary of our setting and world. Instead, the book jumps from one disparate narrative point to another, using the conventions of fantasy epics to give slight insight to the moving parts, large and small. It leaves our lowly scavenger protagonist for a moment of high government intrigue, it abandons a romance to give us a relic. Small bits of information of the larger mythology are casually dropped, but nowhere are these details expressly laid out for us. We are expected to learn on the go.
This far-flung narrative makes it hard to latch on to any singular thread of the story in the span of this issue, which forces commitment to what appears to be that epic structure by way of basic curiosity.
Are those mysterious hooks enough to make most readers commit, then? It’s hard to say; if you’re the type of person who gobbles up Dune novels, almost certainly. If you’re an action first, character second sort of fan, perhaps. But there isn’t a lot in New Masters to establish a personal, emotional connection to our principal character—not yet. None of the epic journey has begun, and what we’re left with is more promise and prologue than forward momentum.
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