Narcopolis #1 (of 4):
Courtesy of Avatar comes creator/writer Jamie Delano's return to comics after half a decade's absence, and it's a detailed, distanced, fitfully amusing one, its limited success solely the result of enthusiastic flourish.
Delano really decorates the hell out of this one's language, positing the friendly ol' future megacity concept as a glowing drug paradise, where the people speak in a sloganized drawl like fleshy adbots - they wish one another SafeDay, spend their SpareCred on SpenDay at LazyLifeLotto, love the corporate-state bosom of MamaDream, oppose the unseen forces of BadEvil and suppress the ContraNarcopolitan urge. Workplace slobs are referred to as "employee heroes," and typical citizen names include Azure Love and Angel Gabble, while other doubleplusgood turns of phrase abound.
But this isn't quite an Orwellian limit on vocabulary/imagination at work; the language of Narcopolis is titular, alliterative and declarative, a poetry of brands and catchphrases poised to transform philosophy into soft drinks, just as emotions can be distilled into handy JooSacs. It's a world of grinning literalism. Opiates: the opiate of the masses.
But believe me when I tell you that occasionally funny scene-setting and decoration is all this first issue has going for it on the literary front; it's as if hanging around so much in Narcopolis' blunt society proved to be a bad influence on Delano, somehow prompting him to concoct the most obvious set of themes and tropes imaginable for the core of this debut issue.
Our hero is a fellow named Gray Neighbor, who's different from the other folks. While working his shift at the bomb factory (yes), he has visions of peaceable Others exploding... all while the narration of the city speaks of Strength and Justice! Why, that's not very just at all. Neighbor also isn't much up for the joocing and funning, preferring to do perverted things like reading books and taking walks, and wondering why the enemy hates his nation. He keeps a pet bird that's big enough to fly, dear readers, but it finds its cage a little too cozy. Might our Neighbor strike at the heart of MamaDream, even as a strange terror attack drives a horde of people cheek-ripping mad?
It's disheartening that bubbling newerspeak of Delano's dialogue gives way to such simple boredom; the story could at least be banal in a way that befits the dystopian mashup of its accoutriments, but it rather suggests a lack of spark underneath the concept at the 1/4 mark. And it doesn't help that Delano's lines aren't quite deft enough to suggest the squirming humanity of his characters, leaving them stranded in style; I'm not saying that distanced emotions can't work in a story like this, oh no, but here they don't have much to work off of beyond obvious messages about the numbing obviousness of bourgeois complacency.
The art (and lettering?) is by newcomer Jeremy Rock, who acquits himself fairly well with a straightforward semi-realistic cartoon style not entirely unlike that of Avatar regular Jacen Burrows, speaking of brands. Granted, I often suspect that much of Avatar's visual identity actually comes from their use of only three or so colorists for all of their books - longtime veteran Greg Waller (recently returned from a period away, I think) does the honors here. EH for right now, hanging on, improbably, by the tip of Delano's tongue. And you'll want to shave a point off if lines like "MagicWord comes, we'll screech BigMouth, scream clean through the DeathStatic IdiotNoise" have you scratching at your eyes - the whole trip's like that, and that's the whole trip.