Created and written by Chris Charlton, Binary Gray is compelling and moves forward at a steady clip, most of it told from the point of view of the up-until-recently very ordinary Alex. Since he is our main entrance into the secret world of superheroes and shadowy organizations inhabiting Sky City, the story is rooted more in the normal, everyday world, pleasantly reminding me of Astro City, another, albeit more well-known city, that also just happens to be populated with superheroes. Also reminiscent of Astro City is the realistic, classic look of the world and its heroes, and the art by Rowel Roque captures that perfect sense of reality and exuberantly breathes life into Charlton’s smart and layered characters. There is a fair amount of voiceover, but it is handled well, and it lets up a bit once Alex’s world begins to expand beyond his office and job and his unexpected adventure gets underway. Charlton does an especially solid job of balancing the voiceover in the beginning between providing information we need to know about the world, Alex Gray’s past, and also his current emotional state, as well as infusing slight, though welcome, comic jabs and jokes that help offset the more dramatic ongoing narrative.
Roque’s art is strong and active, the colors by Anthonie Wilson vibrant, and Brant W. Fowler’s lettering complements all of it, though I do wish the title page lettering was more dynamic, but it does not affect the interior story and art in the least. There are numerous large, exciting action scenes and while the dialogue might slip slightly into fisticuff bravado at times, the art keeps you captivated and interested. I believe that by the time Charlton and Roque made it to issue six, both their skills and compatibility had grown, and, as opposed to some of the earlier action scenes, that issue’s climatic fight is much more streamlined, with more emotional resonance, and more efficient staging, making the movements of the characters easy to follow, something very important in comics. The story dips into more expositional dialogue here and there but doesn’t linger, the information always beneficial, assisting in providing more background and depth, especially regarding the members of The Virtue, who Alex has only ever known as a bystander.
The covers by David Hollenbach are unique and bizarre, and some of them have echoes of Dave McKean, with their mixed media feel, dark palette, and rough painting style. Enigmatic and surreal, the covers are intriguing, but not necessarily informative, when it comes to the story. More than anything, they make you curious, and they succeed at that spectacularly. The extras at the end of the book are great, including bios and character designs, and even some original sequential art. The bios showcase the individual histories and worlds that Charlton built for each of his characters, creating a multi-ethnic, while also fantastical, superhero team that does not feel forced, but rather like a family. It is remarkable to see the depths he has gone to in developing a past for each member of The Virtue, pasts that could easily be starting points for future stories.
Charlton has created an impressive cast of characters, all distinct and interesting, from the emotionally troubled Alex to the heroes of The Virtue, to the nefarious Agency and its own super villains, especially the very unique and creative Tao. The story raises numerous questions and provides some satisfying answers during the course of these first six issues, and though, sometimes, we only get the glimmer of an answer, which is exciting, the story never gets in over its head. I feel that Charlton has a handle on his story and has known where he is taking it from the get-go, and he also knows how to, and at the same time is continually learning how to better communicate his ideas to the rest of the creative team, and their hard work shows from the first page through to the end of the book. Binary Gray mixes elements of emotional drama with superhero battles, secret organizations, and government cover-ups, sneaking up on you, and then exploding with excitement and intrigue, hooking you into its story, characters, and fully realized world. This first volume of Binary Gray is just the beginning, and it leaves you wanting even more, which is wonderful, since I believe Charlton and his team have plenty more to give.