Written by: Van Jensen
Art by: Pete Woods
Last fall, Dark Horse announced two new comic series coming to shops in the months ahead. One of those was Cryptocracy, a shadowy sci-fi tale that blends elements of both Fables and The X-Files. Penned by former Flash writer Van Jensen and drawn by Deadpool alum Pete Woods, the series brings a level of pedigree that should result in fewer growing pains than a lot of new series are known to have. The debut issue is a conspiracy-filled head first dive into a fleshed out world daring to be explored.
Issue #1’s best attribute is presented on its first page, and reiterated throughout the premiere. The story focuses on the players major and minor involved in the world’s Nine Circles, or “families”, an Illuminati-like hierarchical system that rules the world with puppet strings unseen by the vast majority of humanity. Each subsequent circle starting with the first one, grants its members more and more information, power, and influence. The lowest-tier family is but a pawn for the second circle, who in turn does the bidding of the third, and so on. Jensen really seems to have built up a realistic world for these ruling parties, touching on real life conspiracies already believed to be true by fringe sites around the internet. Though the subject matter is fantastical in many ways — the Fifth Circle is comprised entirely of cryptids like Bigfoot — the lore is in place and just dying to be uncovered.
Woods’ art was smartly attentive to environments, displaying almost monochromatic palettes for each of the Circles explored in this debut issue. The character design mixed with the vibrant and dominant colors gives the story a Borderlands-like aesthetic, and it really works for the subject matter. They could’ve sensibly presented it in shades of gray and shadows, but such a heavy-handed metaphor pales in comparison (literally) to the neon-infused high life of the elite 0.01% of the world’s ruling party.
If there’s one place where the comic lacks, its in its introduction to the main characters. As we’re following these Illuminati-type figures, we’re along for the ride with bad guys, or at least anti-heroes, it would seem. By no means is that a detriment. None of the characters stand out yet, however. It seems clear who the story will focus on, but I’m not yet drawn to them. The world-building is spectacular, the characterization is lacking. Still, those who have stayed up binging on The X-Files and Fringe’s numerous monsters and mysteries owe it to themselves to peer beyond the shadows of Cryptocracy. It teases background lore on the level of those revered series or that of Vertigo’s Fables — a detailed sci-fi fantasy world that feels real. Those comparisons are not drawn loosely, they’re much deserved. Cryptocracy is bound to be confusing at times, perhaps even priding itself on that like a season of LOST. It’s a deep-running rabbit hole, and if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s worth jumping in.
*Images Courtesy of CBR