JOIN THE FUTURE
Writer: Zack Kaplan
Illustrator: Piotr Kowalski
Publisher: Aftershock Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A 5-issue Western mini-series with a science fiction twist, where ultra-modern megacities dominate the landscape and drive other ways of life to extinction.
The story exists at the crossroads of Kevin Costner’s film Open Range, Greg Rucka’s Lazarus comics, and the Coen Brothers’ film adaptation of True Grit.
Join the Future issue #1 was previously reviewed by Dan Newland.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Sometime in the future, somewhere in the Midwest, a way of life is dying. Clem and her family live in Franklin, a rough-and-tumble, independent town where her father is the mayor. But all around them, communities are being forced to give in and sell out to the enormous city that dominates the horizon.
When her father flatly rejects a similar offer from a recruiter, it leads to brutal repercussions and Clem finds herself unwilling to accept what suddenly seems inevitable: the destruction of everything she's ever known.
Determined to protect her home and get revenge for what she’s lost, she sets herself against enemies who are armed with technology she was raised to distrust and numbers she can’t hope to match.
Zack Kaplan’s grasp of the central conflict of the book, and what is important for the reader to know, is clear from the start and presented with masterful efficiency.
Kowalski's art manages to appear gritty and sparse—reflecting the book's primary setting—while still packing a level of detail that lends the same panels impressive life and depth. This is especially true in Kowalski's work on natural landscapes and massive buildings.
Brad Simpson’s use of color is what really sells so much of the rural environment, giving the book a look that is grounded but not gray. It's easy to treat these as real places because they are colored and lit exactly as one might imagine them.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou's lettering clearly conveys the dialogue in a way that takes advantage of the art's space and body language. The lettering or balloons are never distracting or even flashy, but any examination of a given page reveals careful thought and skill that the book would be weaker without.
Most characters of consequence are shown to have more than two dimensions, with even the antagonists clearly having interests and motivations beneath the smirk.
The dialogue and human interaction in general shows us who the characters are, and the struggles that they are going through, in a way that feels very real. Moments that would normally feel like flat hypocrisy or thoughtless stubbornness instead ring with a far more human mix of fear, doubt, and determination.
Clementine is a well-written protagonist with interesting limits, and it's how she refuses to give up when she hits those limits that drives so much of the story.
Franklin, as little as we get to see the town at its best, is clearly a place where a number of people from different backgrounds found a home. When many might have painted a rural independent settlement as entirely homogeneous, Join the Future doesn't.
It’s nice to see a story in the Western mold use some big themes at its heart and refuse to provide easy answers. Even when one side is clearly abusing its power and acting as the antagonist, there’s room to wonder about the larger issues behind the action.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Join the Future’s approach to the conflicts and tensions that make for great Westerns is clever, and gives some food for thought, but the genre’s origins in settler & frontier myths can add unintended themes if its tropes are used without care. Kaplan deftly addresses some elements, but a predominately white set of main characters representing a people being robbed of their lands and pressured to assimilate into a “modern” society does not quite stick the landing.
The character of the Trader, while interesting in terms of the role he occupies in the setting and story, never quite clicked for me and his arc felt the most by-the-numbers of anything in the book.
The lack of any concrete threat or catch associated with actually “joining the future” is clearly intentional, a gap that invites the reader to speculate and come to their own conclusions, but sometimes makes characters seem conspicuously vague about why it's all so dangerous.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If Join the Future was exactly what it appears to be on its surface — a classic David & Goliath tale with a healthy helping of Wild West grit — it would still be a well-executed take on those ideas. It’s got solid action, striking art, a compelling struggle, and a main character that's easy to root for.
Lucky for us, we get more. Beyond the immediate conflict, there are real questions about why some people live the way they do, how free they can be without all the information and options available, and what happens when they decide not to listen to those who lead their society. Questions that can easily be asked of either side.
Join the Future explores a world where two definitions of freedom come into explosive conflict, and the illusion of choice is used by those with too much power to manipulate those with too little. It is, in other words, a Western, and fans of the genre will be happy to add this to their collection.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Port of Earth by Zack Kaplan & Andrea Mutti.
We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce
Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark
If you like the art:
The Witcher: Curse of Crows vol. 1 by Paul Tobin, Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, Karolina Stachyra, Travis Currit & Piotr Kowalski
The 7 Deadly Sins by Tze Chun & Artyom Trakhanov
Oliver by Gary Whitta & Darick Robertson
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Zack Kaplan – Writer
New Face: Kaplan broke onto the comics scene with his post-apocalyptic science fiction comic Eclipse in 2016.
He’s a big fan of hard sci-fi, and followed Eclipse with the science fiction comic Port of Earth. Both of those series are being developed for television.
Kaplan has held many interesting jobs over the years, including working as a poker dealer and teacher at the International Academy of Film and TV in the Philippines.
Piotr Kowalski – Illustrator
His first published work was in the Nowa Fantastyka magazine, when he was still in high school.
He’s done a good deal of horror work, an experience which left him well-suited to many of the comic adaptations he has worked on, such as The Witcher, Bloodborne, and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.
Outlander: Piotr hails from Poland, and he’s also worked in the French and Belgian comic book markets.
Brad Simpson – Colorist
Brad gave coloring a try at the suggestion of Nick Dragotta, co-creator of East of West. He’s been impressing readers—and his collaborators—ever since.
Dream Team: He has often teamed up with illustrator Piotr Kowalski, working on books like Bloodborne, Sex, Wellington, 30 Days of Night, and Dark Souls: Legends of the Flame.
Simpson has said that he doesn’t reuse any palettes from previous work, attempting to find a fresh approach for each artist and project.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou – Letterer
Outlander: Hassan lives and works in England.
As the editor of the Eisner Award-winning PanelxPanel digital magazine, and host of the Strip Panel Naked YouTube series, he has made a name for himself as a scholar of comics and visual storytelling.
Prolific: Even though he has only been working as a letterer since 2016, Hassan has worked on over twenty series.
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