Language, Hope And The Future
Posted by Bart Croonenborghs on Oct 2, 2012
Dystopian time at Crossing Borders: from Earth as an industrial megalopolis in Frederik Peeters and Pierre Wazem's Koma to the darkest underbellies of the Mega-Cities in part 3 of the DREDD review.
Language is a virus from outer space
In an undisclosed future, the earth seems seeded with a giant 21st century industrial megalopolis. Five-year old Addidas works with her dad as a chimney sweeper,illegal residents in a clockwork society. It sounds deceptively cliche for a dystopia but Pierre Wazem’s script for Koma is anything but cliche. Wazem’s integration of the weirdness injected into the book starts from the first pages: Addidas turns out to be an optimistic and energetic kid suffering from strange coma-like lapses, strange creatures working strange machines in the underworld and for a future world all the industrial architecture sure looks awfully familiar from a 21st century point of view.
The title referring both to the state of the city and its inhabitants and the strange affliction of Addidas; Koma reads like a cross of Terry Gilliam’s flair for metaphorical stories with the visuals of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis pulled into the 21st century. Pierre Wazem’s script is a dark trip into the subconscious of... who or what? That is part of the question. Just like Dante in his infernal trip, Addidas must find the reason for the subterranean beasts that are working the strange machines she stumbles upon and how they are connected to both her coma and the planet’s industrial stranglehold. Moving ever closer to the mystery in seemingly concentric circles, everything becomes curiouser and curiouser finding ever more connections to a lineage harbouring dark secrets and connections to the world. No worries though, Wazem’s dialogue is catchy and moving. His pacing is fast and despite the heavy themes, it all reads very breezy, often leaving things unsaid in order for the reader to puzzle it all together. Protagonist Addidas is a refreshing and frisky character and Wazem succeeds admirably in staying true to her age while still being able to add multiple layers to the story - even a metatextual one that will turn out to have a surprising impact on the finale-. As Addidas herself says:
‘We can even believe in stories for a very long time. It don’t matter if they are crazy or improbable. They become a part of us. You can even be happy like that. They are no longer lies. They will become more real than reality.’
While Wazem keeps up the weird, Frederik Peeters keeps it all grounded with his heavy brushwork and inspired visuals. Mostly known in the US for his autobiographical graphic novel Blue Pills about his relationship with a seropositive woman, he has long been one of France’s alt darlings. Opting to draw and write his own work, he made an exception based on the strength of Wazem’s script. Peeters brings a solid touch to the methaphorical happenings and breathes life into Addidas with a design featuring big round eyes mirroring her fantastical and optimistic outlook on life combined with a ratty hairdo representing her wild and impetuous side. Even though he has a fluid cartoony line, his backgrounds to be more detailed and realistic in Koma than in his own sci fi slacker opus Lupus. His heavy blacks reinforce the gravity of the industrial future and his many hatchworks provide an ominous atmosphere. Through it all, the characters remain fresh and vital. A perfect collaborator for Wazem’s script.
Koma is a story about the future. It’s about the strength of language and the hope found in the imagination. Pierre Wazem and Frederik Peeters have constructed an allegory for the 21st century in the very loose trappings of sci fi dystopia. It is either a ride into the subconscious mind of the 21st century or a young adult sci fi adventure tale featuring a cocky young heroine. It is probably many things to many people but what is surely is is highly recommended reading material!
Koma by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Wazem is published in Dutch by Sherpa. It is a full colour softcover counting 280 pages and retails for €19,95. The original French edition was published by Les Humanoïdes Associés as six consecutive albums and a collection.
An english language edition is released by Humanoids Publishing.
This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are
After the horror of Dredd Vs Death and the sci fi action adventure of Kingdom Of The Blind we have now reached full on exploitation mode with Matthew Smith's The Final Cut. And as the title quote from Aristotle examplifies, it is a perfect fit for the mental diseases a megalopolis like Mega-City One can infect upon their citizens.
Of all three stories, this was the one where I least looked forward to. In The Final Cut, Dredd uncovers a grisly series of murders that point the finger at an underground movie scene with unlikely allies in the corridors of power. The soundbite just didn't grab me all that much but when you start on the first few pages... it really becomes a nailbiter. Matthew Smith's prose is a no holds barred look at life in a Mega-City. It is raw and uncomprising and often quite grisly in its descriptions and happenings. This is not a tale for the weak of stomach. The torture scenes are described in gruesome detail and had me wincing at several moments. Smith gives a voice to the city and its inhabitants but this voice turns out to be more of a terrified scream than a happy future bliss sing-a-long.
The psyche of Mega-City One is as scarred as its inhabitants seem to be. From Judge Dredd to undercover Wally squad Judge Trager to the perps who set up the torture ring, it's hard to see who is the most scarred in the inside. Dredd with his uncompromising loyalty to the law, Trager's predilection for violence that has welled its way to the surface after being among the worst of the criminals Mega-City One has to offer or the more obviously mental health problems the torture organisers have; it's hard to find any true heroes in The Final Cut.
Matthew Smith ofcourse has an intimate knowledge of this future city state. From his time as an editor apprentice at 2000AD under Andy Diggle's tenure as chief editor, Smith has been the editor of the 200AD magazine since 2002 and is known for pushing the boundaries of the magazine even further than Diggle back in the day. As such, he was able to learn from the best and dive into a wealth of material on dystopic sci fi horror adventure serials. And this shows in his (up until now) only Dredd novel.
If I have any compliants it would be the following: this is maybe not the best book to get to know Judge Dredd himself since the main spotlight goes to undercover Judge Trager and one of the best subplots is left unanswered: the indirect implication (or not) of Chief Judge Hershey and the moral decay connected with being in charge of the largest city on the planet.
In Matthew Smith's The Final Cut, there's a level of depth present that is missing from the previous two tales. A dark moralistic undercurrent that mirrors the mental states of the inhabitants of Mega-City One and the city itself. From the judges to the perps to the people just living their lives, The Final Cut presents an unrelenting tale of the human psyche in a city that ultimately turns out to be detrimental to the mental health of its inhabitants. Highly recommended and if I had my way, this would have been the first tale in the collection.
DREDD is published by 2000 AD & Abaddon Books. It is a paperback edition counting 704 pages and is available in stores right now.
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