Writer: Michael Moreci & Gary Dauberman Art: Zak Hartong Publisher: Vault Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A post-apocalyptic story that all takes place inside a great big mall.
It's a little funny, a little dramatic, and a bit over-the-top, with factions and battles between them. I've never seen Warriors, but I hear it's a lot like that.
To me, it's a bit like Mad Max or the Fallout games if they took place inside a mall. It also has a Running Man vibe to it – that dark camp, and "everyone out to kill our hero" theme is strangely captivating.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
The world ended, and the last vestiges of humanity reside inside a mall, broken into fractions, each themed around different stores.
A man named Andre wakes up next to a man who happens to be dead. Out of something more than just blind, bad luck, the guy's the leader of one of the factions who run the Mall. In this commercial microcosm, it’s super not OK to kill those faction leaders, so everyone has it out for Andre.
That means Andre's gotta prove he didn’t kill the guy. But first, he’s gotta figure out who’d want to set him up and who'd want that faction leader dead. And why. Also important to figure out: how to survive on your own in a closed environment where everyone wants you dead.
That's pretty important.
The overall tone of the book is twisted and madcap in that sort of grindshousy, '80s revival sort of way. It lives somewhere between the dramatic, the comedic, and the over-the-top ridiculous, somehow none of those things, somehow a hybrid of all of them.
Setting up humanity’s potential last holdout, its alpha and omega, and then revealing it as the mall and the understanding of what it represented to modern society is hilarious in a way that’s also...sadly true. And representative of the book's tone.
Actually, if I can just touch on the mall, itself, again: The captions talking about the mall being all they have and if it’s taken away, it’d be the end of everything and they don’t know what they’d become and how that parallels the mother losing her child makes you wonder what she and that baby would become. It's smart parallelism, and also acts as an especially poignant metaphor for consumerism and capitalism.
A large part of Mall's fun is seeing how each faction has taken each store and made it a part of their identity, and how seriously they take it! Like, people having serious conversations dressed in full Foot Locker/athleisure. Women fighting in Victoria's Secret lingerie. A gang wearing intentionally damaged Hot Topic attire. Psychopaths in mascot or Halloween costumes.
Another part of the magic of those costumes are all the subtleties Zak Hartong builds into each. Perceptive readers will notice some people wearing pine tree car air fresheners. With others, the number of whistles around their neck or rings on their fingers show how high their rank is. None of the characters say anything about it but it’s there nonetheless, a testament to Hartong's attention to detail and vision for Mall's world and its characters.
These small, almost missable things pay off to great effect elsewhere in the issue, from the cultist who saves his pig when his group is threatened to the wooden barricade used as a textured background, shown slowly breaking, helping to move the plot forward in an aesthetically pleasing way in a small space. If you're not impressed with Hartong's work in MALL, you're not reading it right.
I'm not sure if the color palette is "limited" on each page so much as it's well-curated. Everything fits together thematically, often with lots of warm colors that give the book its distinct visual personality. It's so different from Addison Duke's candy-coated colors in Curse Words, partially from a pulpy texture applied throughout, but really impressive all the same.
Jim Campbell's lettering work in MALL is a joy, at least partially due to how much fun he seemed to have hand-crafting the sound effects and placing them in such a way that the scenes would be lesser without their existence. For instance: one page uses a series of "BOOMs" as sound effects to lead the eye and create a rhythm, and you can picture the scene playing out like a film in your head because of it. The small sound effects also highlight the scene-chewing, blade-flicking moments, like in the below panels.
The more action-packed scenes, like the one below, feel inspired a little by manga and anime, but are still very Westernized. It's a nice bridge between the two for fans of both styles.
Also love the minority representation in this book and a majority of Vault titles.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Andre's the protagonist, but with all the plot machinations at work, you're not in love with him just yet. We're all still getting used to this crazy world and how it works. But I think we'll get there.
Cursing & violence make this maybe not the best read for kids.
"Piss angel." (Just kidding, this was hilarious. You'll get it when you read it.)
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
MALL is action-packed, unhinged fun with all the right hooks in all the right places.
Darkly gleeful, it's a comic best read on the edge of your seat.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Wasted Space, Vol. 1 by Michael Moreci & Hayden Sherman
Bitch Planet, Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro & Robert Wilson IV
Coffin Bound by Dan Watters & Dani
If you like the art:
Clovis by Miles Greb & Zak Hartong
Red Winter by Michael Gordon & Francisco Munoz
Curse Words by Charles Soule & Ryan Browne
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Michael Moreci – Co-writer
Inspired by space operas like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, and often writes epic sci-fi stories
Many of his other works are currently in production for film or TV
Multitalented: Also recently published his novel follow-up to Black Star Renegades, We Are Mayhem
Gary Dauberman – Co-writer
Multitalented: Known for writing The Conjuring and its spin-offs, co-writing the film adaptation of It, and other movies
Also sounds like he worked with Emile Gladstone in some capacity on MALL
Zak Hartong – Illustrator
His past line work seems to be brought out well by limited color palettes (or well-curated ones, like in MALL)
He doesn't have a huge online presence, so I couldn't stalk him for fun facts to list here
Addison Duke – Colorist
Multitalented: Also does illustration work and work in both digital and traditional media
Jim Campbell – Letterer
Outlander: Hails from the United Kingdom
Multitalented: Also enjoys the art side of the creative world
Prolific: Has done lettering for a large number of hit titles
Adrian F. Wassel – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the CCO & Editor In Chief of Vault Comics, and plays the role of editor on most, if not all, of Vault's titles
Also runs Vault with his brother and father
Has personally helped other comics creators, like Eric Palicki, in their endeavors
Tim Daniel – Designer
Multitalented: Also was the writer on Fissure
Inspired by others in the business: Sonia Harris, Sean Phillips, and Fonographics
Dream Team: Co-wrote Curse and Burning Fields with Michael Moreci
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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