“Uncanny Valley” #1

By | April 12th, 2024
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Classic animation techniques and gags meet a more realistic setting in this story of what truly makes up reality.

Cover by Dave Wachter
Written by Tony Fleecs
Illustrated and Colored by Dave Wachter
Lettered by Pat Brosseau

Oliver is a seemingly typical 12 year old boy… except for a mysterious family history that seems to start and end with his mother, and unexplainable powers, that is.

He can do things other boys can’t, to the point of landing him in some trouble. Baffled by the surreal cartoonish nature of his abilities and followed by a murder of peculiar crows, the mystery behind Oliver’s family history finally unfolds!

Written by fan-favorite writer Tony Fleecs (Stray Dogs, Local Man) and illustrated by acclaimed artist Dave Wachter (Punisher, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), discover what makes Oliver special and strange as he searches for his place in the world.

Merging animated and real worlds can be tricky. On the one hand, there’s the logistics of figuring out how it can function. On the other, there is finding a way for the art style not to seem too imposing. Merging the two can be done well, as in the famous Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 1988, or poorly, as in several instances best left unmentioned. Using what seems to be lawyer-friendly approximations of classic Looney Tunes characters (and some traditionally-animated Disney ones) from the mid to late 20th century, can Tony Fleecs and Dave Wachter use the principles of animated characters to surpass the title of their story in “Uncanny Valley” #1?

To examine “Uncanny Valley” #1, it seems prudent to remind audiences of what the concept actually is. The “uncanny valley” is a hypothesis set forth by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in a research paper in 1970 (also called by the same name as said hypothesis). Mori posits that while humans may perceive something as more familiar as it becomes closer to human, there is a point at which that familiarity and comfort makes an extreme dip into being disturbing and uncomfortable. Looking on a graph, that sharp dip, followed by coming back up once it is more realistic still, would form a “valley” of sorts in the two-dimensional space, hence the name. Such a principle has been seen in robotics, video games, films, and more. How does this relate to “Uncanny Valley” #1, which is an intrinsically static medium? Well, there we look at both the story and its artwork.

The individual characters of “Uncanny Valley” #1 may be important, but it is more what they do, and how their bodies react to it, that works well in the story as written by Tony Fleecs. Played out as almost a love letter to many classic cartoons, especially the aforementioned Looney Tunes franchise, there is attention to a wide variety of physical comedy gags, from bouncing off the walls of a room to leaving a person-shaped hole in walls or the ground on impact, among other examples. Taking an otherwise realistic world, Fleecs treats these instances as unusual and overall strange, especially when most people do not have these same events happen to them.

Taking the idea of the “uncanny valley” into the story itself, Fleecs examines how ordinary people might react to the bizarre physics and reactions of a cartoon in a real world setting, addressing how they make ordinary people seem almost, but not quite human. Unlike many examples, these reactions are not meant as disturbing to viewers, only to the characters themselves, and so they come across as more amusing and overall entertaining than off-putting.

The art style of Dave Wachter is varied and very interesting. There are softer pencils with intense shading for the real world, but once individuals show up from more cartoonish parts of reality, the focus shifts completely. Gone are the deep shadows and three-dimensionality of people or the things they hold, replaced with two-dimensional images that do not seem too far removed from the likes of the work of Warner Bros. Cartoons circa the 1950s. Together, the pieces make for a composite style that feels very much like the effect of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, combining the styles of the golden age of American animation with a more down-to-Earth human cast. The story is intriguing in its own, but it is this amalgamation that really gets “Uncanny Valley” #1 moving.

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Similar to the illustrations, Wachter’s use of color is eclectic, dependent on the nature of his subjects. The three-dimensional “real” world is given very detailed shading, akin to how the world would work for most people, and even the results of cartoonish action are given adequate depth. On the other hand, “cartoons” are given next to no depth at all, their colors not quite static, but relatively unaffected by the world around them. It feels as though these creatures, be they animals or humans, were inserted into a more mundane setting by outside forces, and the lack of much shading at all beyond their basic colors makes them feel all the more alien, all the more intriguing, all the more… uncanny.

Between the story and its artwork, “Uncanny Valley” #1 is extremely interesting and entertaining, especially for fans of the golden age of animation (the 1920s through the 1950s) and the characters therein. The parallels are not overt, not too in-your-face, but they can put a smile on the faces of those who recall such times with fondness. Add on a genuinely intriguing story, and we have the makings of a fantastic debut, in more ways than one.

Final Verdict: 9.0– Fascinating storytelling combines with exciting artwork that will leave readers waiting for the call of “That’s all, folks!”

Gregory Ellner

Greg Ellner hails from New York City. He can be found on Twitter as @GregoryEllner or over on his Tumblr.