When I think about malls, three things come immediately to mind and the first of them is shitty retail and restaurant jobs that neither pay nor tip enough from the zombie movie extras that come wandering through like ambulatory bits of over and under dressed furniture.
Did that sound bitter? Maybe a little. But if you’ve ever worked at or in or around a mall you know what I’m talking about. The people who stand in the same half hour line with you at Starbucks only to get to the barista and have no idea what to order let alone why they came and stood in the line in the first place? The obstinate lady hassling the cashier at Old Navy over why her purchases aren’t free because her husband is in the Navy? Okay, yeah. I’m bitter.
Let’s get to the second thing, and then we’ll spend the rest of our time talking about the third, shall we? Yes. Let’s shall. The second is Robin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother) in her teenage pop star alter ego, Robin Sparkles, and now, goddammit, I have that freaking hook stuck in my head and oh my, my, suffice it to say:
I do. Or at least, I did until quite recently when I was blessed with the opportunity to read Mall, written by Michael Moreci (Wasted Space/The Plot) and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle), drawn and colored by Zak Hartong (Albatross) and Addison Duke (Charlie’s Angels vs. Bionic Woman) respectively, and lavishly lettered by Jim Campbell (Hoax Hunters), which, while it didn’t change my mind about malls in general, did give me the best time I’ve had at a mall since before I hit legal employment age.
Perhaps I’ve said this before, it feels like something I say a lot, but I am a sucker for post apocalyptic fiction. Hell, I’m a fan of post apocalyptic facts, though categorically, those don’t yet exist. Ever since I read Stephen King’s The Stand in my early twenties, I have developed a deep sense of longing for the echoic silence of a world unplugged at last. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was my feel good book of 2007. Other favorites include Swan Song by Robert McCammon (a worthy inclusion, though nowhere near as good as The Stand, if perhaps a few pages longer) and, from Comicdom, Robert Kirkman’s excellent, and now extinct The Walking Dead (Image).
Most recently, Vault Comics, the party responsible for Mall, had scratched my apocalypse itch with another great series, Resonant (DB Andry, Ale Aragon & Jason Wordie), and they’ve continued to scratch, finding places I didn’t even know were itching. Then along came The Mall to hit that almost unreachable place between my literary shoulder blades. It was like I was reaching and reaching and someone just put a chopstick in my hand and then…Well, bliss, obviously. Let’s talk about it:
Mall takes place in…Umm, a mall? Duh? That part kind of goes without saying. Instead of getting smacked in the eyes and ears with an endless barrage of storewide sales signs and massage kiosks, we get a modern quasi-retelling of Hamlet. We open like a new season of Game Of Thrones (HBO) with a sort of recap, a just-the-highlights version of how and why the world we’re about to see went from new car to fubar in six panels. However, it’s not until we turn over Zak Hartong’s beautifully desolate splash of an urban shopping mall, cowering beneath a churning sky of apocalyptic dust clouds that we start to home in on the individuals who will thread our emotions through one end of this story and out the other. (And brace yourself: If you have children, some of these vignettes will really pull at your emotional short and curlies)
The opening pursuit works beautifully as a storytelling device to give us a rapid, breathless look at the world we’re about to cohabit with these characters. A young woman with an as yet indeterminate bundle in her arms runs from a nightmarish combo of a Lost Boys version of Star Fox and Bob’s Big Boy. It’s something to pay attention to as these colorful gunmen relieve the woman of her bundle, in this case, a squalling infant, as it portends to the political undercurrents of what we come upon next.
Andre emerges right away as the quintessence of antihero. Born into wealth and the relative power it provides, our first glimpse of him waking up sprawled against the bed in what appears to be a cheap motel room—it isn’t, can’t be, but it looks like one—with the bloodied, terror faced corpse of the Mall’s titular leader, Delmon Gold. Without doing a play by play of the entire book, suffice it to say that while as readers we are pretty much instantly satisfied of Andre’s innocence, if not entirely convinced of who the real killer is, this issue becomes something of a master class in breakneck, breathless pacing and action pursuit sequences.
I found myself really enjoying Andre as a character with the three dimensionality given him by Moreci and Dauberman, who clearly know what the hell they are doing. Andre is Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, tossed in the cocktail shaker with a couple extra fingers of privilege and bravado, then shaken (not stirred) to be-caped perfection. His contrast and purpose in this case is a wonderfully made combination of Nellie Oleson and Sarah Connor, Delmon Gold’s daughter, Tess. Exposition is handled well and delicately (wellicately?) through Tarantino-esque bursts of tense dialogue. Moreci and Dauberman appear to be working over time to make sure that readers get a clear sense of their world while not mansplaining everything into the dust with blind condescension.
Now, this is something else I know I say a lot, but as a comic book creator myself, I like to make sure that everything that appears on the page does so to reinforce the story being told. That goes for the art without saying, but colors and balloon shapes can also be used to tell the story if their relationship to the line art is handled correctly. Throughout the book, a theme emerges, that of bright, dominant oranges and reds contrasted against a sickly, poisonous (but ultimately, alluring) mint green. The colors in this case uphold the notion that this is a volatile, even explosive society that is in a constant state of denial of its underlying disease, that which affects all major civilizations that do not practice concerted introspection to ensure that policy never becomes more important than populace. In that, Addison Duke has invoked many a colored wonder upon these pages, and his tones harmonize wonderfully with Hartong’s energetic and textured line art. All of the shots are handled marvelously; nothing jars, or otherwise ejects the reader out of the world of the story at any point. The action scenes in particular should be a major draw to this book. All of that narrative grittiness slides as smooth as whipped butter on a teflon pancake.
I’ll end this with something else I’ve been saying a lot lately, and that is that Vault Comics is really delivering the goods these days. In an industry that seems confused over what its next big move should be, whether so and so should go with so and Sony, or dizzy itself out in the Disneyness, it is refreshing if not entirely inspiring to see a company that still puts story forth as its opening move in every game. Mall joins Resonant and the forthcoming The Plot as a title I will be monitoring with intense interest, and of course, making a regular part of my pull down at the LCS. Tending to let my words imply a numeric score, I don’t always end with such, but in this case, as I’ve run my mouth a little more than I had initially planned, I’ll drop a Cliffs Notes version here and say that Mall gets a solid 10/10 as a delicious first course in what promises to be an epic meal. Now if only I could get that goddamn Robin Sparkles song out of my head…