Writer: Shawn Kittelsen
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Colorist: Michael Garland
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Jon Moisan
Logo Designer: Andres Juarez
Production Designer: Carina Taylor
Heart Attack #1 takes us to the year 2052, where humanity has survived the Great Outbreak thanks to the ground-breaking research of Dr. Derek Plitt. Somehow, through his genetic modification therapy, babies were born with extra-human DNA, giving them special powers. Unfortunately, some see these Variants as less-than-human (or not human at all) and seek to suppress their freedom.
The Freebodies want to recognize the rights of Variants, but the movement is fractured. Some of them, like the activist Nona Shaker of Austin, TX, take action against their oppressors, while others are happy enough to rant on their streaming channels and then party afterwards. However, when Nona is captured, a spark is lit as Charlie — the lone witness to Nona’s capture — has a video of the incident that goes viral. Chance brings Charlie and up-and-coming stream host Jill together, and when they make physical contact, their Variant powers are a force to be reckoned with. Will they make a change, or will they remain passive with the other Freebodies?
There’s a lot to like about Heart Attack, the most immediate draw being the sci-fi, post-apocalyptic-ish world to which we’re introduced. Writer Shawn Kettelsen seems to have a well thought-out system in which we find our characters, as evidenced by the story and the bonus back-issue material. And, while the story is definitely political, it doesn’t come across as preachy and stands on its own merits as an adventure and love story. The issue also clocks in at 40 pages, but the pacing of the story makes it breeze by a lot faster than a handful of 20-page issues I can think of.
There are, unfortunately, a lot of drawbacks. To start, the plotline involving Variants felt like beating a dead X-Men horse. The mutants of Heart Attack may go by a variant name, but the differences are thin. Yes, there are plenty of other tales that draw on what makes the X-Men so successful and are still enjoyable, but it ends up being a bland plot device in Heart Attack.
I feel like there are two big reasons for that plot device not connecting: first, the stakes don’t feel very high. We see Nona in the dark alleys being brutalized by police, but the other Freebodies seem to be doing fine as long as they don’t stir up too much trouble. Which, I feel might be Kettelsen’s point, in a way, as that is a good reflection of America in 2019. People may tweet #Resist and then go out for the weekend and forget to vote. It might be a good wake-up call to stop being so passive, but the sense of urgency for our characters gets muddled in the process. I feel I needed the intensity of the situation to be a lot more stark and black-and-white than it was.
The second pitfall is that, honestly, I didn’t connect with any of the characters. Jill is kind of a lushed-up jerk. I didn’t get enough time to know Charlie other than he seems skittish and lacking in confidence, which is all well and good, but the amount of space used seemed wasted by the end after I had no reason to care for the characters. Once they connect, it almost makes the rest of the story too predictable. They become more powerful but they’re not sure how yet, so they have to learn to work together, get others to join them, yada-yada, roll credits. I wish Charlie and Jill had a bit more personality or reasons to empathize with than I got.
The artwork is a mixed bag as much as the story is. Eric Zawadzki’s character designs — especially the outfits — are entirely unique. The style had a lot of shades of Jamie McKelvie’s Wicked + Divine look … but somehow a lot more compressed. It was like all your favorite W+D characters as Funko Five Stars, which is definitely cute, but an odd decision when the story is anything but cute. I was a huge fan of Michael Garland’s coloring as it was entirely eye-popping, especially in the club scenes.
Heart Attack has a lot of the right elements for an engaging sci-fi story about love and overcoming oppression, but unfortunately, the ingredients leave a bland taste. It ends up feeling like a variation on X-Men that fails to capture one of the greatest strengths of the X-Men: likeable characters.