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Emily: Emergence (Review)

Writer: Chaz K

Art: Ken Bastard

Futurebound Comics, December 2019

Emily: Emergence is a psychological science fiction comic written by Chaz K, with illustrations and colors provided by Ken Bastard and Nathan Lum respectively. The story revolves around the titular character who is a college student struggling with the pressure of an upcoming exam, exacerbated by all the distractions caused by her two roommates.

As expected of any story in the psychological fiction genre, Emily: Emergence dives heavily into the inner psyche of the protagonist, which is already chaotic (as one would expect of stressed college students) but made even more so by an important plot device: a chemical that hyper-stimulates her brain.

The chemical is an experimental project by a former professor, unknowingly ingested by Emily. On the surface level, the chemical can be described as a “smart serum.” But it only works that way on people who are already predisposed to being smart. It encourages the production of ideas. People who only think about sex, for instance, will have more sexual thoughts (and will more likely act on it). In Emily’s case, the serum not only helped her perfect a math exam, but she did so using methods and formulas nobody has used before.

This is where the story takes a darker turn. A “smart potion” seems to good to be true, and it is in the case of Emily: Emergence. But it has an unintended side effect. The ideas never stop coming, and they are accompanied by horrifying hallucinations. It is now up to Emily and a couple of her friends to trace the chemical back to its creator and get its effects reversed.

We are not sure if Emily: Emergence is an ongoing series. The use of the word “emergence” in the title suggests so – that this is the first state of evolution for Emily. The ending is open ended enough to allow continuation, but it is also self-contained and works as a one-off story. The writing itself is generally taut, save that it occasionally lapses into excessive verbosity. One of the risks of crafting psychological science fiction is that a writer can fall into the trap of pseudo-science (psychology is already an uncertain enough area of medicine) while sacrificing the “fiction” part of the story, making the resulting yarn inaccessible to the average/casual reader. We are happy that Emily: Emergence avoids that pitfall. There are a lot of ideas and convoluted dialogue in Emily: Emergence, but enjoyment of the story does not rely on their accuracy or the reader’s understanding. The plot devices can be taken at face value.

We would be remiss if we did not discuss the art. There is one extremely minor oddity in the comic itself: the shape of the normal dialogue balloons. All of the normal speech balloons in Emily: Emergence, regardless of who’s talking, are shaped with angular bumps instead of the traditional oval or rounded rectangle shape. This surprisingly distracts. Readers who are used to comic books that use speech balloon shapes to differentiate characters’ speech patterns and tone will, we think, find these a series of visual speed bumps. Maybe the strange speech balloons are intentional due to the protagonist’s mental state, but the stylistic choice suggests all of the characters are talking in a warbling tone. Outside of this minor criticism, the art itself is exceptional. The pages look like they’d fit in with an issue of Metal Hurlant.

Emily: Emergence is a immersive, if somewhat short, read that would be appreciated by fans of creepy psy-fi. We would have liked to see more aspects of thriller or horror, but we understand that the limited amount of pages won’t allow further expansion of the narrative. We would love to see more instalments of this story. You can get print or digital copies of the comic via IndyPlanet’s website, or on WebToons which will take you up to episode 13, published in March 2020.