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‘Crowded Vol. 1: Soft Apocalypse’ (review)

Written & Designed by Christopher Sebela
Illustrated by Ro Stein & Ted Brandt
Published by Image Comics

 

What happens when the entitled can hire an assassin was as easy as getting an Uber?

When the hated can be hunted via crowdfunding platforms? Crowded explores the hijinks that would ensue if the Tinder generation were able to swipe right on a trigger-man.

From the beginning, Crowded defines the terms of its universe as a place where people live their life digitally.

Set in the very near future, odd jobs, places to live, friends, fucks and food are all found through apps.

Even the most basic human interaction of sitting with a friend at the park is scheduled though a smartphone…for a price.

At the center of the story is Charlotte “Charlie” Ellison, who we are introduced to as fly-by-night Gen Z-esque “influencer” with no roots, no empathy and no thoughts to anything other than herself and her own needs.

However, her cycle of narcissism is disrupted by a rude murder attempt during a walk of shame.

To protect herself, Charlie used an app called Dfend to retain Vita Slatter, a bodyguard-for-hire who immediately discovers a crowdfunding campaign on the app Reapr to have the egomaniac killed.

By the time it is discovered, over 2k folks are bidding to do the deed, which promises a hefty million dollar bounty. Furthermore, it looks like Charlie’s own social circle have joined in the hunt to help the campaign reach its “goal.”

Within the fast-paced bullet-flying action of the book is a social commentary on modern life.

From living life via smartphone to the insane names out-of-touch celebrities give their children, Crowded takes aim at the absurdity of modern life with a sharpened blade. The idea that anyone can be famous and everyone is entitled to everything is what gives the comic its edge, justifying the assassination of a self-oriented twenty-something by playing up the annoyances of the Selfie Generation.

Charlie is the perfect target.

She represents the very worst of Instagram: A smug influencer whose own inflated sense of worth dictates her actions. She is a two-dimensional character that is both not worth knowing and fun to hate. She is a stereotype of Gen Z-ers, complete with small purse dog, brightly colored hair and the inability to get a grip on real life. She lives by her phone. And thanks to Reapr, she might die from it.

As she and Vita it the road, would-be assassins begin to pile up. Now known as “The Million-Dollar Girl,” Charlie’s list of potential killers begins to include professional hit men, superstar slayers and every Joe Schmo on the street looking to pay off their debt.

The amusement of the book comes from following the shallow, self-centered egotistical wench and exploring the exaggerated world in which she lives.

In Crowded, anyone can be an assassin, just like anyone can be a target. Books are relics of the past best used for kindling and libraries are now habitats separated by books. Firefighters are for hire only and the top Reaprs are celebrities.

Charlie is a product of her time, but extra. She is more shallow than her most superficial friends. Even her selfishness stands out in a society that praises glory hogs. And that is what makes the chase entertaining: Live or die, it doesn’t matter. Watching Charlie run is half the fun.

The art is a perfect match for the story: Detailed panels created with muted color creates a bland, yet structured world; a perfect landscape for the people that dwell within its confines. The coloring also works in favor of the book. Every major character is given a color palette to allow them to stand out among the orange hues of the book. With Charlie in her pink and Vita in yellow, a reader’s eye is forced to find them in every frame, like a target.

Crowded might be an exaggeration of a generation, but it is poking fun in the best possible way. Over the top and occasionally mean spirited, the book’s far fetched world is pretentious, stylized and wholeheartedly entertaining.

 

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