Writer: Alex Paknadel Art: Martin Simmonds Publisher: Vault Comics
This review only covers the fifth and final issue of this 5-issue miniseries. If you want to catch up on the first 3 issues, you can read about them here. And you might want to read those issues before you read this review, because there will be SOME MODERATE SPOILERS as we discuss Leo's poor life choices.
YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.
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 if the Coen Brothers did an episode of Black Mirror around Idiocratic (as an adjective describing an Idiocracy) rampant brand obsession and consumerism. This particular issue also feels a bit like Palahniuk's Survivor, where we discover fame isn't quite as fulfilling as everyone hopes.
This review covers issue #5, the final issue of the series. Paknadel, Simmonds Cunniffe & Esposito out-farce the genre in this over-the-top finale.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
For many children, the Action Joe™ figurines were The American Dream. Our protagonist, Leo Joof, grew up not being allowed to engage with toys, or capitalism in general, but it's always been his dream to own an Action Joe. Unfortunately, much like The American Dream, the toys were incredibly toxic. Corporate America being what it is, they buried the toys in Native American lands, “legally,” (lies don’t matter if you have an agreement and a paper trail) where they’ve been poisoning everything for years. The angry, psychotically smiling faces of thousands of Action Joe figures, somehow more American than Uncle Sam, just sit there, not decomposing so much as leeching poisons into the soil and water supply. Leo is a product of both America and Action Joe. America’s "laissez-faire" attitude toward business (although, if anyone knows the Latin for “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” that would probably be more appropriate) created the Action Joe craze and the toxic aftermath, as well as the vapid, sad, potentially dying man who is still as obsessed with the figurine as he was as a child.
"Sad" might be underselling it a little. Leo's suicidal, which could be why he seems to be coping so well with the possibility that he's dying. When characters like Leo are both shallow and suicidal, it evokes a special kind of pity that’s hard to describe. Depression and suicide seem more of the kind of afflictions you’d tie to depth and trauma. Leo hasn’t shown any of that. He’s always been shallow, pursuing the whichever carrot is dangled in front of him at any given moment. Even in those moments where we’d expect to see that depth, like in his suicide note (a simple sign saying “Not kinky, just sad”), or other potential key points in his adventure (the old capitalist adage, “Time is money” is his "numinous" go-to, and screaming that they got his eyes wrong on his own figurine as his life is threatened), Leo is devoid of depth. But he's not incapable of it, as we'll see in this issue.
Like the "fool" character at the end of his hero's adventure, Leo returns to where his "spiritual journey" started, ready to burn it all down. He's chased by two aerial cameras, named after fallen angels, broadcasting his wild ride to the wide world. The man in charge of the stores Leo's been robbing still wants him dead, because human life is worth less than publicity. Jerry, Leo's malfunctioning anthropomorphized assistant, is still with him, bloodied and with a giant hole through his torso.
This is where it all ends.
(***OK, some big SPOILERS here, folks!***)
Alex Paknadel has written a truly spectacular, multifaceted fiasco story
His characters are more archetypical than nuanced purposely, meant to be symbolic of your average consumer, or CEO to make clear what he's wanting to communicate about each
His hero's journey is a farce, meant to show how we unthinkingly obsess over the things that don't matter while actively ignoring ways we could improve our lives or situation
He also points out myriad other issues wrong with America, from our fostering/adoption system to how we let corporations get away with murder (literally) while making it massively entertaining and humorous when it could easily turn into a laundry list ticked off as we make our way closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock
Favorite lines this issue:
“Time’s own honey, steamed and sculpted into the image of its tormentor.”
A wounded Leo, close to death, gains clarity enough to foreshadow future events and sum up the entire series
“One way or another, the things you put into us always find their way into you.”
The trickle-down effect may have been a lie rich people sold to everyone else, but if you let garbage pile high enough, it’ll reach the penthouse suite
The "Reasons To Believe" on the Action Joe splash page
"The dream of home ownership," which we know is unattainable for a majority of Millennials and younger generations
"Realistic howl of existential anguish" parodies and commodifies trauma
Other great moments:
Easter eggs of characters named after fellow White Noise members, Caspar Wijngaard and Dan Watters
The skewering of other American Dreams, like famous and dying in a shiny red car
Headland's daily blood transfusion & Rex Carrington's casual sexism are absolutely unsurprising characteristics
Leo accepting death and just sitting close to the fire because he's cold and the toxic fumes are keeping the flies away is ghoulish, something you'd see out of a horrific war film or a memoir about someone who's drinking themself to death because the pain of existence is too much
When you see the burning, grinning pit of toys and the bunny-eared man who's about to get eaten by cameras and the whole rest of the issue, it brings you back to the farcical aspects of the title
Also, can we talk about how the Action Joe figures are representative of America, and when they're all burning, the comic is basically saying, "This is America and it's a garbage fire"? Because, yeah, that's how I read it.
It also makes me feel like it's a metaphor for the obsessive need to consume – it helps lessen the pain of knowing our society is collapsing and our world is dying and there's nothing we can do about it
Leo, Jerry and Action Joe™ become the (un)Holy Trinity
And somehow, Zajicek actually seems to see him as such. At least, as a Leo/Jerry combo.
Seeing this foreshadowed in a tongue-in-cheek way of using the over-utilized "moth coming out of a cocoon representing future growth" was a humorous hint
There was talk in previous issues about Leo becoming part of the problem, but it's not until this happens the Leo literally becomes Action Joe that the circle is completed
The fact that he sees himself as Action Joe, but is actually a hideous monster who contributed to a new culture of people obsessed with the Friendo technology says so much about celebrity, consumerism, the lies we tell ourselves
Simmonds pulls out all the stops this issue
The spreads! The action sequences! The innovation!
His 9-panel grid of chaos for Zajicek was a lot to take in
He even separated the top third of the page into 3 panels because the room was in such disarray, and it also helped with pacing and balance of the page
The splash page of the death scene comparing Headland's and his peasant blood donor's piss-soaked, poisoned bodies to the toxic Action Joe figures lying in a pit was *chef’s kiss*
Also, the replacement of the talking head with panels and powder, because talking heads are all the same, so it doesn’t matter, anyways
Dee Cunniffe's colors throughout have been phenomenal, using the bold, garish palettes of corporate America's marketing departments and merging them with grounded earth tones, making the former feel all the more alien
Taylor Esposito's lettering is tight, as always, and surprisingly understated for a book so over-the-top
His borderless balloons give a nice, clean aesthetic to the art, and with so many characters hurt or dying, hand-drawing many of those balloons was the smart move
Sound effects for this book have been minimal, used mostly in "insert shots" to give some texture to that panel's action
I'm always amazed at how much Esposito's style changes from book to book – he gets every title's tone so well and creates a customized lettering style to match it perfectly
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!)
You might need to read it more than once to catch everything
For example, in this issue, Leo mentions "Carter" and asks him if he ever found the head of the snake – I'm not sure what this means, but it may be a callback to earlier issues
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 (albeit dark and tongue-in-cheek as hell) read, but there's also plenty to study here for readers looking to dig deeper into the story's meaning.
Personally, it's my favorite comic, and easily one of the top 5 comics of 2018-2019. Maybe soon, maybe in a few years, people will look back on this comic and realize Friendo is a literary masterpiece.
With America and the UK caring more about temporary creature comforts, celebrity gossip and other things of little import, they ignore the house on fire around them. It's a tough pill to swallow, but somehow, Friendo and its creative team make it easy and entertaining. That, in itself, is worthy of an award.
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™ #1-4 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
One the Rise: Has been on higher profile comics within the past few years, probably because he's a fantastic colorist
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 #5 hits March 27. Pre-order it from your local comics shop!
Click one of these for issues #1-4:
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