Published on July 8th, 2016 | by Lauren McPhee0
Roche Limit: Monadic #4 – Review
* This review is a return to and compilation adapted from each of my reviews of the three series of Roche Limit.
Roche Limit is a comic that deals in dualities, in memory and imagination and the nature of choices. Michael Moreci has created a murky detective story that traded in touch of its noir quality for a dash of dreaminess, and the two merged to create a hard-boiled future on the brink of wonder. From Langford’s narration, it’s easy to imagine what he sought to build, and the intention is something I think we can all relate to. But then, so is how it all fell apart, as too often things seem to do in real life.
What we are entering into, then, is a dream that has soured and the images carry the taste of it. Vic Malhotra’s art has the dinginess of noir and yet lends itself to the rough expanse of space by imbuing it with a harsh beauty. Jordan Boyd’s colours give the comic the intoxicating flavour of excess and debauchery while also retaining a touch of dreaminess.
I don’t particularly like the saying, ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,’ but I will say this: the Devil doesn’t tempt us with measly offers. He knows what we want most. In Roche Limit, vision is the carrot on the string, luring the well intentioned forwards, but ultimately proving unattainable, and with disastrous consequences.
This circular nature of the narrative is both striking and revealing. At first, it can seem dissociative as threads continue to unravel and diverge, but each issue reveals new connections that were underlying the surface, bringing new knowledge to bear. Moreover, despite lacking a linear narrative, Roche Limit doesn’t feel slow or laboured; with all the action going on, the story runs quite quickly. However, you might feel that a lack of direction hinders things, as the comic often poses more questions than it answers, but to do so is to miss the point. Roche Limitis not something you can rush through to the end. After all, all circles end where they begin.
Langford’s suit cracks, alarms flash, and he removes his helmet and dies. But as he dies, he offers us a piece of advice: “Our only haven is the world we make”. Against the beauty of space, even as a man dies, Langford’s words seem optimistic until you remember what happened to the world he made. The final message is contradictory, bewildering and lost in the vastness of space. Langford preached exploration, vision, and searching beyond our perceived limitations, but after all his failures, he seems to urge whoever is listening to perhaps focus their attentions closer to home.
In issue 4, Langford recounts in his final message that he never had anyone to share his world with. However, Alex does. He has Bekkah. Yet, in the end, it doesn’t stop him from sharing Langford’s fate, or allow him to prevent any of the outcomes already set in motion from the series’ beginning. Twin satellites, Langford and Alex are like all other things orbiting the anomaly and they can’t escape it any more than gravity would allow them to.
Featuring a new, fuller cast, Clandestiny is more of a post-apocalyptic foray than a detective story like Anomoly was, but it orbits around the same themes; although, in its cyclic return, it could be better described as a re-entry than simply a return. In the first issue, gone are the poetics of Langford, as civilisation is gone, and in place of a prologue, we get Sasha. She won’t give us lamentations; instead, we get hard truths. Their mission was a lie. Roche Limit is not what they expected and a lot more dangerous.
Kyle Charles’ art is visceral and filled with presence, blurring the lines between dreams and reality. The horror is truly stuff of nightmares, but so too are nightmares bleeding into experiences of horror. It gives the story the elusive trappings of a dream turning bad, of a beauty that is unsettling. This is combined with the colours of Matt Battaglia in the flush of mystic purple that paint the pages. The darkness of the hues softens the edges of shadows but at the same times, stretches them, so that light in fact shines on very little. It is a permanent twilight, a liminal drifting on the constant edge of dreaming.
The horror elements of this comic serve to stress the monstrous nature of those obsessions which will ultimately corrupt us. The art maintains the harshness of reality, but not over and above the eeriness of Sasha’s husband’s attempts at manipulation; in Sasha’s final confrontation with him, he loses his face and becomes a half-image of what she desires. The forest grown up around them encloses the trapping nature of what he offers. Then the monster appears and its thick lines, like charcoal, paint it as both a machine and monstrosity, like something from a nightmare. But if dreams can take on the feeling of reality, so can reality become horror. That doesn’t make it any less real.
The prelude is still my favourite part of this comic; Langford’s narration matches tone for tone with the pitiful progression of his life, death amongst the stars, and rueful afterlife. The colours of his fall through space, the series’ purple tone and the anomaly’s hard and bright yellow, mark the contrast of the inescapable realisation of this own failed reality.
Accepting what’s real and what is an illusion that we maintain can be extremely difficult, especially when all of our hopes and desires are invested in a fantasy. Roche Limit: Clandestiny is about the futures we don’t envision for ourselves because we choose not to, because we are living too much in the past. But the thing about destiny is that it’s unavoidable, as is reality. To live only for impossible dreams is to be lost. There is horror in reality, but life too, and many deaths.
While Anomalous and Clandestiny can be read as self-contained stories, Monadic utilises so much from the previous series that first time readers picking it up will be confused. The book doesn’t waste time filling the reader in on what’s come before, or on introducing characters we’ve already met. This is because Monadic is Roche Limit, the conclusion. You’ll notice that both previous stories lack conclusion. The events that the characters are trying to prevent happen anyway. Roche Limit had already fallen at the beginning of Anomalous with the death of Langford and the creation of Recall. The Black Sun had already possessed Dispater by the time Sasha and her crew arrived in Clandestiny. Her attempts to destroy the monster and prevent the infection from spreading to Earth have already failed and Earth is in ruins at the start of Monadic. It is all one and the same ongoing story.
The theme of Roche Limit is that to live in dreams of ‘what was’, ‘what could be’, or ‘what could have been’ is seductive, but ultimately, dangerous and futile. If you inhabit your dreams, your memories, or your visions for the future, you end up going around in circles. The open ended nature of the series reflects that as our characters continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Monadic has them literally trapped in a cycle of their own losses and regrets; but over the course of these final five issues, we see those cycles start to be interrupted and broken.
Kyle Charles’ art is excellent and dramatic, building a feeling of tension right from the beginning. Along with a colour pallet by Matt Battaglia mostly consisting of reds and oranges contrasted with a dark shades, it adds to the oppressive and otherworldly feeling of this ‘Earth’ possessed by the Black Sun. Meanwhile, light and its glow is used as a reminder of the anomaly at the heart of the story, the stealing of souls, and the enticing and enchanting power of dreams and visions. Light can be benevolent, but it can also be beguiling and enthralling.
Alex’s sacrifice on Roche Limit makes him unique in the alien’s limited understanding, and so the fake Earth seems to be a construct in which the aliens play out stories in order to understand elements of the humanity that escapes their grasp. When they have succeeded in extracting the soul from humanity, inserting themselves in its place, they will become unstoppable.
While this book is a beautiful study in science fiction, horror and noir detective stories, it is at its heart a mystery, and an exploration into what makes us human and how we dream. It examines the mistakes we make, and why we repeat them. And it takes a hard look at our ambitions, our regrets, and our illusions. And as much as I anticipate the conclusion to this story, I will be sorry when Roche Limit: Monadic is over, mostly for the beautiful way in which it posed questions, interrogated and delved into the mystery of what we humans are.
In this final return with Roche Limit: Monadic, we have to remember that all of this has gone before, all combinations of elements in the universe are repeated, and all existence and all energy will recur an infinite number of times across time and space. From humanity’s perception, and in our limited cognitive existence, time appears to be linear when, rather, it is cyclical. Some argue that in order to make peace with the eternal return, we must embrace amor fati, “love of fate”. In Roche Limit, this would mean accepting the anomalous, that is loss, failure, regret, and the unfulfilment of our hearts’ desires, and embracing the unimagined future in a cycle of repetition as old as time. Such an idea is, I think, as optimistic or as pessimistic as you want it to be.