Hmm, could this be the next Saga?
You may recall our sneak peak at Ballistic #1 last month – the new comic from Adam Egypt Mortimer and Darick Robertson hits the shelves tomorrow, and if you haven’t pre-ordered you might struggle to get a hold of it in the rush.
Review sites have been cranking up the praise for Mortimer’s comic debut, with none other than Grant Morrison declaring it to be his favourite comic of 2013. Of course I got there first, what can I say – I’m a trendsetter! Smiley winkey face, etc.
It’s difficult to pin a badge to what kind of comic Ballistic is exactly. Last time around I called it one part Spider Jerusalem punk, one part Mieville madness, and a dash of Cronenberg with a psychedelic Mortimer cherry on top, in an effort to express the unique weirdness of this hard sci-fi, hyper-violent, tongue in cheek world…
Synopsis: Welcome to Repo City State, where everyone’s an asshole… even the air conditioners.
Darick Robertson (Happy, The Boys, Transmetropolitan) and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s (director of Grant Morrison’s upcoming Sinatoro) madcap, psychedelic, transreal, utterly-wacko buddy adventure about Butch and his best friend Gun, a drug-addicted, genetically-modified, foul-mouthed firearm, as they attempt to elevate Butch from air conditioner repairman to master criminal in the twisted, post-eco-apocalyptic Repo City State, a reclaimed trash island built entirely from DNA-based, living technology with bad attitudes.
Ballistic marks Darick Robertson’s return to the hard sci-fi worldbuilding of his classic Transmetropolitan but mixed with The Boys’ ultra-violence and the lunacy of Happy. Mortimer’s mix of speculative science, pulpy noire, and drug-addled adventure cooks up a strange brew of Lethal Weapon by way of Cronenberg meets Dr. Who if written by Odd Future.
(Mild spoilers follow, but only for the pages that have been previewed. Still, leave now if you don’t want to be spoiled at all!)
It’s difficult to avoid the comparisons between Ballistic and Transmetropolitan, not least with the same artist, Robertson, behind both books, but these are two very different fishes. While Transmet, my most beloved comic series of all time, was set in a cyber-punk future the message was less about the world that had been built decades down the line and more about how it reflected our current society and the problems that arise from a media controlled world of politics and herd behaviour.
Spider Jerusalem was brash, terrifying and a frustrated genius; Ballistic’s Butch is almost entirely the opposite: slightly dim, not very frightening, and with a penchant for crime. Where Ballistic does meet Transmet in the middle is in the world of sci-fi and world building.
Robertson of course we know from Transmetropolitan, The Boys and Happy amongst others, where he has shown great ability to handle long sagas, juggle multiple characters, depict very real and horrific violence, soft whimsy, and above all fantastic urbanscapes. Robertson’s cities are alive, the reader plunged within them, and in the case of Ballistic that makes for a very interesting journey indeed.
In the first preview pages seen, one pagespread in particular really jumps out and grabs the eyeballs. A ’57 Oldsmobile soars across the sky on batwings, above a sprawling city of neon bio-mech buildings and infrastructure. A place where the buildings and objects are literally alive. It’s like Gustave Dore on a psychedelic rampage. And it’s glorious.
The comic begins with a fist halfway through someones face, blood flecks spraying across the page and drowning the gutter in red. Torture, crime bosses; Red City State, a place where everyone is an asshole, even the air conditioners. The aforementioned car, complete with eyes for headlights, belongs to Butch, the air conditioner repairman. By his side is his constant companion, the horribly ugly, and bizarrely constructed Gun. Who is, well, a gun. A sentient one. A gun who is alive, with a real thirst for life. Ending lives (sorry, I’m channeling Schwarzenegger now). He’s also a rude little bastard.
The juxtaposition between the very un-butch protagonist and his feisty fire-arm sets up the buddy cop feel from the beginning, but in a very playful way. In hyper-violent comics we’ve become a little used to the grim-faced anti-heroes that know exactly what they’re doing and give no damns. Here we have an everyday bloke, trying to break into crime and constructing wonders like his Gun and Car on the side. Clearly he’s not quite as dim as he looks, but he’s not fitting into any of the traditional “lead character” slots either.
In the background, the crime boss gets a drink from his bar, served by tentacle hands plugged into the wood… while Gun punctures through Butch’s skin to operate, and we find out that the borked air conditioner wasn’t faulty. It was hallucinating.
Each new location provides a myriad of background details that make re-reads highly enjoyable, as strange vehicles flit through the air, people dine on cloned human meat with full skinned heads on tables, women talk about giving birth to puppies for a better bond with their pet, and everywhere the technology is alive as bio and mech come together in quite unexpected ways. In fact with so much going on and such rich potential, I’m reminded less of past comics and more of today’s Saga.
There’s clearly satire here, as well as immense world-building and various socio-political angles worked out, but most of all this reads like just the tiniest nibble into a universe that is incredibly fascinating and utterly captivating. Finish the comic and and Mortimer has provided four pages of annotations giving more background to the little things you’ll pick up on and want to know more about, and there’s even a map of Repo City State.
Very rarely have I ever wanted the next issue in a comic series so badly, not to mention a lovely trade (HC?) and please, please, the inevitable ongoing series. And of course what is particularly exciting is that this mini-series is not from Vertigo or from Image. Will a big hit here for Black Mask Studios see some other big names coming from that publisher in the future?
Anyway, I’m not going to spoil any more, I can’t – you MUST read it yourself.
Writer: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Artist: Darick Robertson
Colourist: Diego Rodriguez
Cover Artist: Darick Robertson
Production Artist: Vincent Kukua
Producer: Matt Pizzolo
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Diamond Code: APR130918
Release Date: July 10th
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.