Writers: Zac Thompson & Emily Horn Art: Alberto Jiménez-Alburquerque Publisher: Vault Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A post-apocalyptic, or more appropriately, "post-anthropocene," story about the haves and the have-nots, a desolate planet with only a few plants left hanging onto life, and a brother and sister whose projected paths seem to go in divergent directions.
It's kind of hard to compare any specific mass media to this. But if you simplify it, there are a lot of your traditional post-apocalyptic hallmarks: an Earth that's all but dead, toxic and threatening, and one central holdout of humanity. Center that all around plants, and you have a rough idea of what No One's Rose is and why it's deemed "biopunk."
However, if you're a fan of video games, imagine if Dishonored took place in the dystopian future of Chrono Trigger's 2300 A.D.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
It's the future and renewable energy has been invented! Unfortunately, it's only holding up the last vestiges of the human race, under a small dome. Everything outside of the dome is desolate earth. People scour these dead and dangerous lands for stunted saplings of plants that might make the future more hopefully inclined toward a greener world.
Tenn Gavrilo is one of our central characters. She's a young scientist, a bio-engineer, and potentially one of the people smart enough to save the planet. Her brother, Seren, is an activist who is not comfortable with the status quo. But Seren knows a lot that Tenn isn't aware of. And if Tenn were to find out, would she change her mind about saving the world?
“Post-Anthropocene” and "biopunk" are such cool hooks into this comic's genre. You can really get a sense of the themes of this comic.
The story and the world feel so BIG, and there's a great deal of backstory hinted at, so you really feel the promise of excellent exposition ahead.
The comic has a beautiful cover (no surprise for a Vault comic, right?). The credits design shows Zac Thompson and Emily Horn working together in a way that fits the design and themes of the book, which is a subtle, smart touch.
Aesthetically, it'll really scratch your itches for end-of-the-world environments and steampunky character design. Tools and other equipment have that ornate detailwork that you love to see in steampunk, and it looks real, like you could easily imagine it looking that way in real life. Colorist Raul Angulo's contributions go far to capturing the dusty, dusky outside world, the metallic technology and the earthier tones inside the dome.
As the toxic world is described to us and as we see the superstorms and other environmental issues, they all seem incredibly likely if we continue on our path of ignoring climate change. This grounds the story in the real world and helps it feel more realistic and believable.
I admire how the brother and sister, Tenn and Seren, can’t trust each other and have their own internal monologues. They’re cacophonous, unaligned, at odds with one another. But they won’t talk to each other about it. It's very theatrical, playing out like a song in a musical.
It looks like letterer, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou a designed a custom brush or design for the word balloons for this comic. The stroke around each balloon gives a slightly coarse, varying texture to the dialogue. However, the typeface is sturdy and aligned well, anchoring that tone instead of pushing it to a more “wavering” extreme. You still get a slight “handwritten,” uneven feel to the letters themselves with some nice letter variations throughout (two different “L’s” for example), indicative of the care and attention to detail you can expect from Otsmane-Elhaou.
The dialogue is also in all-caps and thus more easily readable on your hand-held devices. Like Hickman, Otsmane-Elhaou seems drawn to sentence casing in many of his books (at least in those I've read that have been lettered by him, but that could just be me), but as someone who has to read on his phone more often than he'd like, I appreciate the readability here, and I don’t feel like he’s sacrificed style for legibility in this case.
Otsmane-Elhaou always has top-notch sound effects, and he does not fail to impress here. The lightning sound effects look like lightning, and all the sound effects feel intentionally a little too big for their panels, savage and uncontainable. This further underscores the danger of the outside world in its current state.
The splash introducing us to the Green Zone is larger than life, a moment given gravity and extended cinematically.
Illustrator Alberto Jiménez-Alburquerque excels at capturing realistic facial expressions. They're not always attractive, but that lends them an authenticity, like an unexpected photograph compared to a posed one.
Jiménez-Alburquerque also pays great attention to the panels of this comic. The layout style is less traditional. Sometimes panels are aligned, sometimes they aren't. Some pages are simple, others may have a great many panels on them. Sometimes, we get insert shots on a key object or element, similar to how a film might cut away to give us a close-up on something that will soon be important.
I like how Seren absentmindedly prunes the tree at the center of the green zone. It's like he's subconsciously caring for the place, even though he claims to want to bring it all down. But between the black mold — never a good sign — and the dying leaf, we’re getting signs the tree's health isn’t moving in the right direction.
The dying leaf works as a great transition to the next scene, another testament to Jiménez-Alburquerque's cinematic style. However, he also uses the comics medium in a way you wouldn't see in the movies, like in one scene where the line art of the water upstages a panel’s corner; it’s a small clever way to show its wild power.
Vault's always great with representation in their comics, and the main characters in this are a woman and a gay or bi man.
The character designs are also unique and interesting – I wonder if there's a story behind the red insignias on characters' faces, but even if not, it reinforces their personalities on each.
Honestly, it's always cool seeing something low tech like a skateboard in the future. It's small, but I enjoyed it and had to note it here.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
This first issue has a lot to set up and can feel very plot-driven. As such, the characters feel more like vehicles for the plot than three-dimensional personalities for us to like or identify with.
A lot of the talk around this title has been about "optimistic sci-fi" and "biopunk," but I'm not getting a lot of that in this issue. Things feel pretty standardly post-apocalyptic/dystopian. With the exception of the last bastion of humanity, the rest of the world is a mess. And while the city may run off the giant tree at its center, the wardrobe, architecture, and technology (with the exception of a really great garbage disposal creature) don't seem to lean too hard on the "bio" aspects of "biopunk." It wouldn't be that big of an issue if that weren't the whole hook of the series. That being said, it's still very early on, and there's a lot of room for these details in future issues.
There's cursing in this, for anyone worried about that sort of thing with your youngsters.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Look, if you know the caliber of comics Vault delivers or if you love steampunk and futures where the Earth is decaying, this is a book you need to check out.
It's a promising start to an ambitious new series with epic ramifications. Give it a read before this dystopian future becomes a dystopian reality!
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
The Replacer by Zac Thompson & Arjuna Susini
Low by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini
After the Gold Rush by Miles Greb &
If you like the art:
Letter 44 by Charles Soule & Alberto Jiménez-Alburquerque
Black Science by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera
Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Zac Thompson – Co-Writer
Dream Team: Often writes as a team with Lonnie Nadler
Outlander: Hails from Vancouver, Canada
Emily Horn – Co-Writer
New Face: This is her debut comic!
Outlander: Like Thompson, she also lives in Vancouver, Canada
Alberto Jiménez-Alburquerque – Illustrator
Outlander: Lives in Spain
Worked in French comics for nearly a decade
Raul Angulo – Colorist
Most of his coloring work has been for BOOM! Studios titles
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou – Letterer
Multitalented: Edits PanelxPanel, the digital magazine about comics, and also writes comics & films
Outlander: Lives in the southwest of England
Has a comics podcast with Aditya Bidikar called Letters & Lines
Adrian F. Wassel – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the CCO & Editor-In-Chief of Vault Comics, and plays the role of editor on mostof Vault's titles
Also runs Vault with his brother and father
Has personally helped other comics creators in their endeavors, even for non-Vault comics work
Tim Daniel – Designer
Multitalented: Does all the design work for Vault Comics and writes comics for them, too!
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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