Hey gang! One of the benefits of this gig is that occasionally, you’re surprised. I like to think that in the 5+ years (!) I’ve been writing this column I’ve had a pretty good run with the comics I’ve picked up. Part of that is trying to avoid things that I think will disappoint me (e.g. I don’t pick up every new #1 volume that DC or Marvel puts out because there’s going to be some guaranteed flops) and part of it seems to be just plain ol’ luck. This week I’ve picked up a comic that’s pushed all the right buttons and has hooked me from the first issue: volume one of the thriller-movie-in-a-comic-book powerhouse Crowded, written by Christopher Sebela (Injustice: Ground Zero, High Crimes) and drawn by the artistic team of Ro Stein and Ted Brandt (Captain Marvel, Raven the Pirate Princess).
Approximately ten minutes into the future, the gig economy is king. Need food? It’ll get delivered. Want to sell your possessions? There’s an app for that. Need to hire a friend? Easy. Want someone six feet under? There’s an app for that too. One of the most popular apps in America is Reapr: the home of crowdfunded assassinations. Someone slighted you in the past? If enough people back you, they’re gone. An ex making your life hell? Post the story and see if you pass the threshold for someone to do the job. Charlie Ellison wakes up on an average morning to find that she has had a bounty of over a million dollars placed on her head. With no one to turn to, Charlie hires Vita, the lowest rated bodyguard on the Dfend app – and soon, the two unlikely partners are on the run from the entire population of Los Angeles. If they can survive for 30 days, Charlie is safe – but there are a lot of guns between them and safe haven.
The premise of Crowded is pretty simple: two misfits trying to survive insurmountable odds. It’s a little bit of social commentary, a little Purge, a little Die Hard and honestly I found the whole thing to be surprisingly charming. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, given the straightforward setup, but there are enough tantalising plot threads to keep drawing you further into the story. There’s the saga of the big-shot streamer assassin struggling to maintain his social media empire, the mysterious, poisonous assassin with an undefined connection to Vita and Charlie’s own secrets – it’s clear she knows a lot more than she’s letting on about her situation. Also there’s a puppy, which always adds an extra layer of appeal. Sebela has crafted a fantastic world that’s not too far away from our own, but with enough sci-fi tweaks to make things interesting. This is combined with perfectly matched art from Stein and Brandt, who produce some of the most expressive characters I’ve seen in a comic in quite some time. Poor Vita gets put through the wringer, and her straight-man act to Charlie’s hot mess is the best kind of odd couple comedy.
All things considered, Crowded is action-packed, funny and pretty damn charming – do yourself a favour and grab volume one – Soft Apocalypse – next time you’re in your local comic store.
Written by Alastair McGibbon