Writer: Alex Paknadel Art: Martin Simmonds Publisher: Vault Comics
This review only covers the first two issues. Because of that, we don't have insight into the full story arc, so this review may look a little different from the weekly reviews of full volumes.
WHAT IS IT?
Imagine if Google Glass anthropomorphized an artificial intelligence made for the sole purpose of marketing. Now, imagine if that AI went rogue in a world where corporations are no longer held accountable for their actions.
Yeah, it probably wouldn't turn out super well.
It's like Black Mirror or 2011: A Space Odyssey meets the rampant brand obsession and libertarianism of Idiocracy.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
The future is now, and it's branded, trademarked and available in 37 different colors. Earth has been ruled the venue of nonstop marketing, thanks to a bit of legislation called the Bernays Act that states brands are no longer responsible for any harm that comes to people because of their products.
And so all of this and a kind of laissez-faire attitude the government seems to take toward corporations has created a vapid society obsessed with aesthetics and consumerism. And while that may just be a staple in the Venice/Hollywood area where this takes place, it seems like a more national issue by how some characters talk about it.
But let's back up to several years ago. Leopold's father dresses all in black and stands on the street corner, denouncing people's immoral obsession with the tangible world. He's brought Leopold with him, also dressed all in black. Little Leopold, drawn with a vapid and empty face, is more enamored with the Action Joe™ figure he sees in a store window than sharing The Good Word with passersby. His father sees this and, enraged, attacks him, desperate to stop Leopold from becoming like the brightly colored consumers he's preaching to.
It's years later and "Leo" is now one of those people, anyway. He's a struggling actor with a very well-off girlfriend. Also, he just killed someone in a car accident, but he shrugs it off because it's the 3rd time this year that that's happened and, thanks to the Bernays Act, no one is really responsible for what happened. Maybe the 3rd time is the charm, and it won't happen again.
Anyway, that's the world this takes place in. Now, to cheer him up, his girlfriend buys him some glasses (think Google Glass©®™) that essentially give the wearer a new best friend completely tailored to their personality.
The Friendo (™, don't forget!) acts as a companion, there for the wearer to give directions or answer questions, like Siri or Alexa, but only sticks around when there's purchase intent. It's basically like a phone app or an EA game, constantly asking you if you want to spend money for more energy in the game or telling you to buy the DLC ("downloadable content" or extra stuff you have to buy, for those not in-the-know) to enjoy the full experience.
Things go south, and they go south fast. Jerry, the Friendo, might be on the fritz. Leo might have some unresolved issues having to do with the Action Joe his father wouldn't let him buy decades earlier (or, maybe the weirdly Aryan Capitalist Success Story he represents). In fact, the whole thing might be a bit of a train wreck.
And, ensorcelled by Leo's plight, we are helpless to look away.
I love the comic's little touches
"™" after the title and certain goods in the book are smart, subtle ways of playing up society's brand obsession
HOLLYWOOD sign being defaced to read "VOID"
Algorithms determining individual importance
An experience/AI tailored to individuals based on only 4 questions, because people are so simple and shallow that you only need 4 questions to understand them completely
We see a decent amount of language being thrown around that's currently used by the right wing, like "Snowflake"
Used to belittle and dehumanize, adding to the only-skin-deep culture so popular in the comic
Also used in reality by those who are privileged, entitled and incapable of deeper thought or understanding, which is perfect for the characters in this story
It feels very Black Mirror
Algorithms determine individual importance
Brands and marketing rule society
The hypocrisies and decadence of "late stage capitalism" are brought to life in ways that don't seem like too much of a departure from today
Friendo™ is a master class on how to make a brilliant comic book
The writing is thoughtful and so sharp, it cuts to the bone
We've got meaningful symbolism in here, we've got foreshadowing and juxtaposition of opposing ideals...I feel like I'm studying a story in a college literature class, but not bored out of my mind
The plot moves FAST -- what Paknadel accomplishes in issue #2 is usually reserved for the late 2nd act of a story
There isn't a bit of dialogue or exposition that goes to waste -- everything is important and meaningful
When characters need to say something deep, it's often just a commentary on their own shallowness (or society's)
The art and color Simmonds and Cunniffe bring to the title are bright and vibrant and perfect for Friendo's themes and venue
Characters often pose like puppets or in a more grandiose, flamboyant manner, a commentary on the roles they play in their lives the the persona they're trying to portray to others
The color palette is often limited, yet bold, using a lot of purple and orange and making the rare blue or black-and-white feel uncomfortably out of place
The panel layouts are thoughtful, innovative and cinematically paced
Esposito is an expert letterer, and you really get to see him show off his skills in issue #2
I don't want to post it for fear of spoilers, but a less talented letterer would have ruined a certain spread in that issue that was an incredibly impressive culmination of the entire team's artistic efforts, as well as plot points within the story
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Cursing, violence make it maybe not the best choice for kids
Cover art is not representative of the interior art (but I've got a panel below if you want an example of it!)
The interior art isn't as photo-realistic as other comics, but the style is this glamorous, almost garish aesthetic that actually really works to highlight the shallowness of society
You might need to read it more than once to catch everything
Stylistically, I don't know if I love/understand the quote use at the beginning and end of the first issue, but I could just be extra sensitive to it because I know that kind of thing is often viewed as old hat or a rookie choice in film
Issue #2 doesn't continue this practice
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Friendo™ forces us to reconsider our own self-centered natures, our compulsive need to consume, and how much power we've allowed corporations to consolidate. On the surface, it's a fun and enjoyable read, but there's also plenty to study here for readers looking to dig deeper into the story's meaning.
Friendo is already extremely timely, but if it keeps up this momentum and level of excellence throughout the story's entirety, it's poised to be a timeless classic.
But I guess we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. It's only issue #2.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Arcadia by Alex Paknadel & Eric Scott Pfeiffer
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson
Fearscape by Ryan O'Sullivan & Andrea Mutti
If you like the art:
Friendo™ #3 by Alex Paknadel & Martin Simmonds
Death Sentence: London by MontyNero & Martin Simmonds
Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Alex Paknadel – Writer
His apprehension toward trusting corporations and the tech industry also inspired his writing on Arcadia
Dream Team: Is part of White Noise Studio with other upcoming, extremely talented writers: Ryan O'Sullivan, Ram V & Dan Watters
Has a PhD in English literature
Martin Simmonds – Illustrator
Studied corporate identity and infographic design to inspire his style for Friendo
Often noted for his cinematic approach to his sequential art and blending of realistic and painted styles, he opted for a cleaner, more minimalist design for this comic to give it a more corporate feel
Outlander: Hails from London
Dee Cunniffe – Colorist
Is openly opposed to Move the Needle, Bounding Into Comics and other hateful entities aligned with #Comicsgate
Outlander: Lives in Ireland
Taylor Esposito – Letterer
Owns and runs Ghost Glyph Studios, which handles comic book lettering, production/pre-press & general design
Dream Team: Also currently working with industry superstars Warren Ellis & Colleen Doran on the Webtoon comic, Finality
Multitalented: He is also a second degree black belt in Koei-Kan Karate-Do
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Issue #2 and a reprint of issue #1 both come out Nov. 14th.
Click one of these:
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