Much of Ultimate Knowledge is the best-written Infinity 8 has been so far, and Infinity 8 has been exceptionally well-written so far. But this volume pairs an odder couple than usual, so there’s constant banter. The partner is also a know-it-all, verbose historian, and he’s always got something to say about whatever they’re experiencing (or running from).
The volume opens introducing the historian—Bert—and the agent, Leila Sharad. Also, more than any of the other volumes, Bert is the lead here; Leila’s the comic relief and occasional blunt object. Leila confronts him about a possibly stolen antiquity (she’s in customs) and ends up causing an incident involving the dead flesh-eating aliens from the first Infinity 8 volume. It’s a slightly familiar scene because the series used it as a non sequitur reference to the first volume back in the second volume–a long-cooking Easter egg.
Except when Leila gets the assignment from the captain—go to the center of the solar system-sized space graveyard and wait for the ship they found out about last time—she’s going into the mission with a lot more information. And a clear purpose. So she demands Bert come along. Their first meeting was tense, with quite a few deaths, and she wants to make it up to him.
Of course, she’s a hard-ass, and she doesn’t want to show any empathy, so he can’t figure out why she’s making him go along.
The other big change is the creeper lieutenant, who hits on Leila as usual (the only one he left alone was the nun) but goes on to explain he knows it’s all getting reset, so it doesn’t matter how he behaves anyway. So, he’s worse; though presumably, time will reset, and no one will know it.
Except for the captain.
Bert and Leila fly to the center of the graveyard, waiting for the spaceship’s arrival, and go sightseeing. After some good banter and comedy of errors, they discover a metal orb, which seemingly brings the dead being’s consciousness to (holographic) life. Immediately following this discovery, plant roots reach up and grab the sarcophagus they were looking at, and our heroes give chase.
The roots are part of a plant-based life-form, who’s had plenty of time to talk to the dead beings, but no actual experience with other life forms. Ultimate Knowledge then detours into hard sci-fi with Bert trying to piece together how this life-form works (and thinks) while Leila’s distracted by the beautiful scenery and her own good jokes.
The finale has some action—both explosions and chase scenes—as they get back to rendezvous with the spaceship from last time, but they also learn more about the nature of the graveyard on their own. Turns out having Bert along—someone who thinks to use his tricorder instead of just zapping everything to oblivion—leads to, well, maybe not ultimate knowledge, but definitely more knowledge.
And then, just in case Knowledge hasn’t been heady enough for the reader, there’s a last page spin everything about the graveyard (and the series) around again. Since it’s on the last page, the characters don’t have time for their minds to be blown; there are hard cliffhangers and soft cliffhangers, but this one’s a conundrum cliffhanger. Bert spends the third act explaining to Leila (and the reader) how to think about the things they encounter, and it sums up something special.
Excellent writing from Emmanuel Guibert and Lewis Trondheim; Trondheim gets second-billing in the script credit for the first time (I’m pretty sure). Bert’s a fabulous lecturer, and Leila’s the perfect bratty foil for him. I hope they return, especially since their character arc is left unresolved.
Franck Biancarelli’s art is often gorgeous; the plant life-form, Bert’s gentle expressions, Leila’s harsh ones; Biancarelli brings a slightly different energy to everything, which gives Leila and Bert’s personalities additional layers. Knowledge is dense, exposition, and detail-filled, but their experiences of the unknown—including one another–are where the creators focus.
Again, it’s fantastic.
And that final reveal ratchets expectations for the next volume unlike anything the book’s done before.
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