This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 22nd March 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
Charlie is fine. She’s FINE. Sure she works twelve zero hour contract jobs, parties all night and someone’s put a hit out on her on Reapr, the feral crowdfunding murder site but she’s FINE. She’s got Vita. Dfend agent, Fiercely good at violence. Like WAY tall. What could possibly go wrong? Or quietly?
Crowded is a caffeine riddled joyous guitar solo of an action comic. Written and designed by Christopher Sebela it’s a four Twitch channels into the future shiny dystopia that’s as happy as it is desperate, as murderous as it is happy. The world building, doled out subtly and organically across these first six issues, sets up and contextualizes the book’s brilliant premise with the same ease Vita dismantles humans and much less paperwork. This is a world held hostage by itself, one where murder can make you famous and civility can keep you safe. It’s subtler than Death Race, funnier than The Purge. Cyberpunk with a 4G connection and a dog it really should get around to naming.
A lot of the book’s joy sits in the relationship between Vita and Charlie. Vita is tall, pained, disheveled in the way all true badasses are. She has her entry points, her procedures, she knows everything and everyone and is very good at what she does. Even if she won’t kill. Charlie is short, just a touch maniacal and knows everyone too. It’s just most of Charlie’s ‘friends’; want to kill her and Charlie is really pretty pissed off about that. Her attempts to deal with it usually put Vita in the line of fire. Wonderfully, Vita realizes this inside about an issue and a rolling, bickering double act the likes of which comics have never seen before is born.
What makes Crowded work is everything. At it’s core it’s a thriller, a character study, a possible romance and a piece of shiny happy dystopia. It’s best moments combine these and give Sebela’s imagination full reign. Vita and Charlie hide in a library that’s been re-purposed as a street hotel at one point. One of their primary adversaries is a famous Reapr participant who is one ‘LIKE, SHARE AND SUBSCRIBE!’ away from filming a dead body in the suicide forest. This is a world defined by an economy of murder, unable to move past that and either terrified, excited or both at the prospect. It’s heady stuff, and it’s far from all Sebela does here. No one gets off easy, no one is just a villain or a hero. At one point Vita stabs an assassin in the chest and the book stops as she tries to save the woman’s life. At another she says something genuinely hurtful to Charlie who visibly wilts. Comedy and horror, drama and action, all at the same time and all sprinting towards the same goal.
Also it’s very, very funny when it isn’t being horrifying and sometimes then too. Ro Stein’s pencils are the perfect combination of fluid and precise and the character work is startlingly good as you see here. Ted Brandt‘s inks add depth and subtlety that enhances every scene and the book’s visual language is just as impressive and fun as its prose. Triona Farrell’s colors give everything a slightly terrifying, super enthusiastic LA feel while Cardinal Rae‘s letters handle the snap fire dialogue with grace and aplomb. No one misses their mark here, and as Vita and Charlie sprint across the city, their world is defined and explored by one of the best creative teams in the game. Juliette Capra’s edits and Dylan Todd’s logo work rounding that team out.
Best of all, Crowded doesn’t live up to it’s name in one, wonderful, sense. This first six issue arc gives you answers to a lot of big questions but sets up even more. Sebela and co take that glorious action movie premise and open a door in its center to something longer form, far more complex and even more fun. This isn’t just a cheerful cyberpunk dystopia, this is a book with places to go. i’d hop aboard now. And buckle up.