Robert Kirkman’s newest comic isn’t exactly a post-apocalypse story, but it is a post-something story. Taking place 10 years after an event destroyed a major American city, it asks questions about how easily we absorb history-making changes into the fabric of our daily lives — but it also has bug-eyed monsters, untrustworthy survivalist groups and a hero with with a cool cape.
“No matter how horrific something is that happens to us as a people, it doesn’t take too many years for us to just go back to normal and forget about it,” the Walking Dead and Invincible creator told reporters at Oblivion Song’s pre-New York Comic Con press conference, and that theme is easy to see in just the first few issues of the comic.
Here’s the gist of Oblivion Song: Ten years ago, 30 square miles of terrain from another dimension appeared in the middle of Philadelphia. With that terrain came a foreign ecosystem complete with alien predators, some of them larger than buildings. Nearly 20,000 people died.
In the aftermath, a scientist figured out the second phase of the disaster: Thirty square miles of an alien planet had not merely appeared in Philadelphia, it had swapped places with the city. Thirty square miles of Philadelphia, full of terrified survivors, had been sitting inside an alien world for years. New technology was crafted, allowing people to travel between Earth and Oblivion; rescue teams were trained; and survivors were extracted from Oblivion’s Philadelphia, overgrown with mold and overrun with monsters.
Our main character is Nathan Cole, the scientist who discovered the dimensional secret of Oblivion. He and a small crew are still making dangerous trips to the other side, but a decade after the fact, their government funding is drying up. Now there’s a museum, a monument, several TV shows and a handful of bad movies about what happened. Earth has moved on.
But Nathan’s very personal quest to uncover all the secrets of Oblivion leads him to a new discovery: There is a society of survivors living outside the far-off Philadelphia, in the wilds of Oblivion, with no idea that Earth even exists anymore.
The half-life of a tragedy
When Polygon sat down with Kirkman, we somewhat cautiously brought up the first event that Oblivion Song’s normalization of unthinkable events reminded us of: 9/11. We were, after all, sitting in a room in midtown Manhattan, and would be heading down to our office in the Financial District in only a half hour or so.
“9/11’s definitely something that is always in the back of my mind,” he answered, noting that he writes superhero comics where buildings get torn apart, and writes extensively about societal collapse and other “things people were worried about at the time.”
Kirkman paraphrased a Clint Eastwood quote in which the actor bemoaned the ongoing public reaction a mere seven years after 9/11, saying, “Nobody got blasé about Pearl Harbor.”
“It is something that is interesting to me about modern life,” Kirkman continued. “We’re pretty much constantly at war, but because it’s not covered on the news at all times we don’t really — I, honestly, I meet soldiers and I meet veterans but there’s no one in my life that is a soldier. I don’t know a cousin or a relative or anybody that’s over there. So it’s something that’s oddly and uncomfortably separate from my everyday life. That’s something that I think is an odd thing to explore. How is it that we as human beings are so capable of ignoring profound things that are going on in the world?
“And every now and then a monster knocks a guy off a building and it’s a cool fight scene,” he concluded, with humor.
Much like Nathan Cole’s expeditions into an alien world, Oblivion Song is a planned excursion. While Kirkman intends for it to be a lengthy ongoing series, he has an ending in mind already, and questions that he plans to answer. What caused the Oblivion event? Will it happen again?
Polygon was able to read the first three completed issues in advance, and still, the writer says, there are more characters to meet and a big reveal at the end of the first six-issue story arc that will point the series in an unexpected direction.
As a long-running story that involves monster escapes and disaster/survivalist societies, Oblivion Song presents easy comparisons to The Walking Dead. But to Kirkman, the zombie series is much more realistic.
“There’s no monsters, no fantastic elements,” he said of The Walking Dead. “There’s zombies walking around, but aside from that it’s very grounded. Oblivion Song is a much larger world, it has entirely different dimensions, it’s got a different ecosystem.”
There’s also the constant contrast with normal, modern life on Earth. Nathan Cole can transport himself back at will, just in time to attend a government hearing about funding for his research efforts. Rescued survivors can walk the halls of a museum about the catastrophe that trapped them in Oblivion, right by students on elementary school field trips.
“Nobody’s getting mail delivered,” Kirkman said of Oblivion, “and you’re struggling for resources and things. But just figuring out if you can drink water in an alien dimension, or if water even exists, or if you can even grow food and what kind of food, if you can eat the animal life there” differentiates it significantly from the world of The Walking Dead.
He had help crafting that alien world from Italian artists Lorenzo De Felici and Annalisa Leoni. De Felici does all the linework of Oblivion Song, including designing plenty of bug-eyed monsters, while Leoni gives the book its sickly sweet colors. You can get your own look at the cover and first eight pages of Oblivion Song #1 below. The entire issue, published by Image Comics, will hit shelves in March 7, 2018, with a first trade in September.