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‘What’s The Furthest Place From Here, Volume 1’ (review)

Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Tyler Boss
Published by Image Comics

 

What places do you think of when asked about imagining a post-apocalyptic world?

We’ve seen so many of them in our recent fiction: The Walking Dead, Mad Max: Fury Road, Last Man on Earth, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, Y: The Last Man, The 100, and so on.

But did you ever see the end of society from the ruins of a record store with a gang of teenagers and no adults?

In this world, the vinyl record you pick becomes your identity, the artifact of who you are when you “grow old” and leave the gang for whatever else is out there.

It’s an intriguing story so far meeting the kids in the Academy: Sid, Slug, Oberon, Alabama and Prufrock.

Welcome to a post-apocalyptic world in which adults are gone, and children huddle together in gangs seeking community and love while also ready to dole out extreme violence to get their way. What’s The Furthest Place From Here? works under an essential premise that combines The Lord of the Flies with The Warriors and then throws a quest akin to The Road within it.

The story opens on the ruins of a record store, the home of kid gang The Academy, led by the tough-yet-compassionate Alabama. Among these kids, the vinyl record you pick becomes your identity, the artifact of who you are when you “grow old” and leave the gang for whatever else is out there, or when you die.

A missing member of the gang returns, mortally wounded, igniting a new round of skirmishes with other bands of kids. But when the pregnant teen Sid disappears in the night, Alabama and the gang set out to find her, drawing more violence and misery along the way as we dig deeper into this post-apocalyptic world.

Rosenburg and Boss exploit the advantage that comes in telling stories about kids: the more emotional, less logical, actions taken by people who don’t have all the working knowledge or experience to do better. (Hell, the title uses Furthest when they mean Farthest.)

Therefore, the world-building happens like a lamp illuminating only pieces of the whole map at a time. We see the Strangers – tall, masked, wraithlike beings. We’re told of them through lore, that they provide food for the children and that they hold some kind of authority. But we don’t get more than that.

Because we’re telling a story about kids, Rosenberg and Ross have a much wider berth for their characters to make decisions that don’t “make sense” and get to take abrupt left turns in the plot. Just when the reader is about to settle into something, they are jerked away and hurtled into a crisis, issue after issue.

After all, this story arc happens because Oberon decides – against Alabama’s orders – to leave Sid on the roof alone because she felt sad after their gangmate Slug’s funeral. But then he stupidly gets caught up in the party, drinks too much, and forgets about her up there.

Academy member Prufrock becomes the main device through which things go wrong, a human hand grenade of a kid who’s big, strong, angry, and never thinks ahead. His rash actions – of perceived heroism and, often, deadly violence – drag The Academy deeper into trouble, as they keep moving through the world and we meet many more child gangs. It does get repetitive after a bit, however.

Boss’ art comes from the David Mazzuccelli school of slight detail on the people, heavy detailing on the backgrounds, and the stylized colors add to the dread and bleakness of these dumb, lost souls. As we meet more gangs and especially once the horrorshow Carnival arrives in town, the Mike Allred vibes resonate more. Boss also deserves high praise for creating indelible looks for the Academy kids (very much post-punkers) that rhyme with each other yet stand apart.

What’s The Furthest Place From Here? builds in intensity and, at times, ridiculousness.

We see children play-acting various adult roles as if that’s what they saw on TV. The Boys in Blue police the other gangs and may have a line to the Strangers (and maybe even the people who run the Strangers), and their chief sounds like street cops on The Wire trying to maintain some twisted kind of peace. Or the gang at The Market all wear vests and name tags that read “Dave,” and keep repeating customer-service and advertising talking points.

However, that ridiculousness is matched by brutality and viciousness that also reside in children because they’ve yet to regulate their id. The Bold Folks gang play dress-up as senior citizens in the ruin of a retirement home, but it takes a horrifying turn when you see their initiations. (One non-spoiler hint: Boss draws the gang kids with teeth that appear to be too large for their mouths. Why is that?) Or the ridiculous and brutal come together in The Carnival’s vaunted Judgment Night, a kangaroo court for the ages.

There’s a lot more in these six issues, with information dripping out in interludes. The issues’ scenes are listed as “chapters” of only a couple pages at a time. Either that will annoy you or it won’t. I didn’t quite get the conceit, but that’s me.

Overall, the series works so far, and the multiple cliffhangers have set up a bunch more questions. I’m ready to keep reading to find out where this all goes.

Grade: B+

 

 

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