Pullbox Reviews Beyond Real #1- Loss & grieving, across a surreal landscape, from Vault Comics

An artist’s discovery. When struggling artist June is injured in a severe car accident that leaves her boyfriend in a coma, she begins to experience strange visual phenomena. Soon, she’s able to see that we are all actually living in a computer simulation. June must set out on a journey of possibility and peril into the metaphysical layers of the simulation to reach the world’s creator and save her true love from death.

Meet artist June Ward and her physicist boyfriend Eli Bowen. They’re a young couple, full of ideas and hopes for their future. After a serious accident leaves Eli in a coma, June starts to see things a little differently in very literal ways. These new insights start her on a search for answers to questions formerly left to philosophers… and oddly enough, physicists.

Beyond Real was going to be something special from the start, beginning with Vault’s release of over 100,000 pre-ordered copies of the first issue for free to comic retailers. With the reveal that there would be multiple interior artists, seven total across the five-issue run with each handling a different aspect of the surreal landscape explored during June’s story, that ideal continued. Finally, just on the basis of it being built within the framework of the Simulation Hypothesis originally formulated by Nick Bostrom, it all gets taken to the Nth level.

I have to give my unadulterated respect to writer Zack Kaplan because it isn’t every comic that motivates me into a little research before writing a review. It started with a look into Bostrom’s theory of reality as an advanced simulation, and morphed into a look at the Kübler-Ross model when June’s quest looked like it was following the Five Stages of Grief. The last feather in Kaplan’s cap that I want to mention is that he takes another roll of the dice & holds back from letting June be totally likable. In most cases, this kind of story would follow a go-getter with a heart of gold, but Kaplan’s spin lets June come across as self-centered and more than a little bull-headed. You might not hate her, but you may want to tell her get her head on right and she’s a stronger character for it.

So we’re going to have to talk about the artwork in this book, and that’s going to be tough because there’s a lot of it. While Fabiana Mascolo & Toni Fejzula are credited as illustrators, with Jordie Bellaire Fajzula on the colors for the first issue, the list goes on for the rest of the series. It makes a lot of sense as you go deeper into the story (I was blessed with the first three advance review copies) where things take on very different looks, but I’m going to try not to get too far ahead.

In a story built on the premise of the world being no more immutable than any other computer program, the use of various artists and styles is a slam dunk. The idea is just touched on in the opening issue where we’re introduced to June and Eli, but by the end it’s apparent that things are just getting started. June begins to… see things, experience things. At first, she thinks she’s having a breakdown caused by the accident and the coma that takes Eli away from here. Mascolo & Fejzula do a masterful job of showing readers the world as we believe it to be, and then introducing breaks in the program until June can’t ignore what Keanu Reeves showed us back in 1999… The Matrix has us.

The layers on which Beyond Real are built takes it beyond the norm for a comic book, elevating it to a degree I hope readers can appreciate. The care and detail taken to lay out the existential question of “who, where, and what are we?” make this as close to a perfect opening issue as may be possible. So close, in fact, that I don’t think I have any choice but to the do the unthinkable…

Final Score: 13/13

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