Denver original graphic novel
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Pier Brito
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Cover artists: Pier Brito (regular)/Amanda Conner (variant)
Editor: Joanne Starer
Price: $19.99 US
Jimmy Palmiotti and company’s independent ventures are typically published under the branding of “PaperFilms,” and it’s an apt designation. This graphic novel reads very movie like something designed as a cinematic experience, and it works as a movie pitch, honestly. I know I’d watch this flick, as I enjoyed and appreciated the premise here. There’s just one problem, but it’s a big one: the creators like gratuitous sexuality get in the way of a fire and powerfully relevant plot. I enjoy sex and provocative imagery as much as the next guy, but Denver isn’t a sexy story, and the creators’ effort to inject sex into the book feels forced and distracting. Once you lift those elements out, though, Denver is a novel piece of speculative fiction that nails the sociopolitical, geological and social effects that climate change will undoubtedly have on the world in the coming decades.
With climate change plunging the world into a period of devastating flooding due to a steep climb in sea levels, Denver has become a refuge for two million people, given is high elevation. But there’s only so much land and so many resources, so admission of new people is strictly limited and controlled. Max is a senior officer in the force that monitorings the shorelines and facilitates admissions, and that’s why he and his family is targeted by outsiders looking to circumvent the system — by any means possible.
I knew nothing about this book before I delved into it. My comics retailer put a copy in hands as a thank-you for my patronage a while back, and as I was organizing my home office, I happened upon it. I didn’t know if Denver was the name of the character on the cover (I had the variant edition), but it seemed dark and provocative. It was those things, but it wasn’t at all what I expected.
I rather enjoyed Pier Brito’s style here. It’s dark and gritty, and it suits the tone of this unconventional crime story incredibly well. His work here reminds me of the art of Eduardo (100 Bullets) Risso, albeit with a more detailed and realistic bent. The texture, atmosphere and detail also evokes memories of the hard-boiled intensity of Heavy Metal from years gone by. Unfortunately, Brito also overemphasizes the sexuality of the female characters, but to be fair, it seems clear he’s also taking cues from the script. The visuals of naked or scantily clad women are jarring, shattering the convincing portrayal of a society in a precarious balance.
It’s not just the T&A elements in the artwork that distract from the story. Palmiotti and Gray include a couple of sexual elements in the book that just don’t need to be there. Max’s partner throwing herself at him at the end of the book, in the wake of his personal life being torn asunder, feels incredibly shallow and unnecessary, and given the mentor-student dynamic between them, it’s an uncomfortable prospect as well. The variant cover by Amanda Conner is attractive and incredibly sexy, but it lacks any context for the gratuitous image, and ultimately, it has little to do with the story inside.
The sad thing is that this is a powerfully compelling story. Even without the vitally relevant component of climate change in the plot, it’s an interesting take on government and regulation. Typically, one expects such stories to champion the rebels, the underdogs seeking to make a better life, but the writers here extol the virtues of a governance focused on the well-being of all and a balance to ensure sufficient resources. Bear in mind, this isn’t necessarily an anti-immigration story (though I could easily see xenophobes latching onto it as such). One has to consider the environmental message that’s intertwined with that immigration tale as well.
Palmiotti and Gray offer an alarming glimpse at a possible future – alarming, but not alarmist. What makes the situation in this vision of Denver so gripping is the sheer plausibility of it; it becomes more and more plausible as the 21st century marches on. By demonstrating the extreme measures this fictional city-state takes to ensure safety, survival and sustainability, the writers are really delivering a call to action. Thanks to the crime story, dripping in noir, it’s an entertaining call to action, making it a more effective means to convey the message. 6/10