“Chapter 1: If You Wanna Scream, Scream With Me”
Writer: Matteo Pizzolo
Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan
Colors: Tyler Boss
Letters: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Price: $3.99 US
This may be the first Black Mask title I’ve sampled, as I haven’t been as engaged with comics-publication news in recent years, but the cover and name for this comic book really grabbed my eye when I glimpsed it on the stands last week. While I’m not as engrossed with the latest developments in the industry, I’ve become far more immersed in American political news, and this thoroughly topical reaction to that real-life news piqued my interest immediately. It’s a capable piece of fiction and commentary on the state of the world today and potentially going forward, but it also wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. And not necessarily in a bad way. Ultimately, this is character-driven story, which means the political and military status of a fractured America isn’t detailed in depth. But it’s intriguing and can spark important discussions about the ever-increasing issues of concern in the not-so-United States.
In the not-too-distant future, President Trump has been elected to a second term, and many opposed to his unconventional and unpredictable leadership have taken their concerns to the extreme. Parts of the West Coast have broken off from America, leading to major cities being occupied, greater restrictions on freedoms and a resistance willing to go to violent lengths to fight back. Agents are on the hunt for one of the leaders of the resistance movement, whose actions have inspired great loyalty from ordinary citizens even as they endanger them. Meanwhile, some people are just trying to eke out a not-so-honest living in a post-United States of America, people like drug dealer and smuggler Jamil, who’s carefully managed to avoid making enemies on all sides of the conflict.
Visually, Calexit is something of a patchwork. Some aspects of artist Amancay Nahuelpan’s linework remind me of the style of Jon (Black Diamond, Gun Theory) Proctor, but his portrayal of the most vile of the antagonists is more in line with a style akin to that of Jon (Clean Room, The Wild Storm) Davis-Hunt. It seems Nahuelpan is still developing and honing his style, and he’s taking a lot of inspiration from related comics. It’s easy to see things like Brian Wood’s DMZ and Jonathan Hickman’s Nightly News in this comic. There were a couple of perspective problems in suburban scenes that made for a confusing moment or two, but the cityscape scene that introduces Jamil is an effectively striking one.
No cover artist is credits in this comic (though Robert Anthony Jr. is credited for “flags”), but the cover merits discussion. The white background and bold, stencil-like logo is thoroughly effective. However, I think the printing approach wasn’t high-end enough. The blacks of the credits at top, the title, the publisher’s logo and the issue number appear to bleed a bit. Perhaps that was intentional, but they’re a bit difficult to read and discern. I would have preferred something a little crisper.
The focus here is on three characters, Zora, Jamil and Father Rossie. The latter is the clear antagonist of the book, the man on the ground imposing the government’s will on a resistant people. He’s not presented as physically formidable, but genuinely creepy and corrupt. The creators sell us on his evil through the reactions of those he encounters (which is also how they sell us on Jamil as a protagonist, because he doesn’t flinch in the face of such ugliness). Zora and Jamil, despite being the heroes of the story, are far from heroic. They exist in shades of grey, and their own rules and ethics don’t necessarily put others first. Zora has only her mission, while Jamil is focused on surviving in a conflict-filled world by not coming into conflict with those he interacts.
Ultimately, the character in which I was most interested was this vision of a broken America. I wanted a lot more information on the socio-political and militaristic characters of this alt-scape. There wasn’t a whole lot of that information forthcoming, and what little we did get posed more questions than answers. My hope is the creators take time in coming issues to fully explore this world as they explore these characters. My reason is this: as an outsider looking in at America, this sort of division and violence seems all-too plausible. Comics are usually a form of escapism, but this cautionary tale potentially offers people a way to escape such a depressing fate. 7/10
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