Writer: Zack Kaplan
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Colorist: Brad Simpson
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Cover Artist: Piotr Kowalski, Brad Simpson
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
“Breathe. Focus. Trust yourself.”
I was 13 when I shot a bullseye. First shot I ever took. Growing up in Appalachia, I knew plenty of folks who loved hunting. I remember my father and brother trudging up the mountain every Saturday, no matter how cold it got. But I was a bit too “soft” for the whole thing; I didn’t see a reason for it. Hell, who knows why I even wanted to learn to shoot? It doesn’t matter. I was 13 when I shot a bullseye.
It was a lucky shot.
Comics, whether they ought to or not, have one shot. Sometimes, you shoot a bullseye. Sometimes, you shoot through a ten-gallon hat. And first issues, in particular, aren’t easy. They mark a story, inevitably, for the reader. For a first issue you loved, that issue can be a benchmark to hold the next one issue, 10 issues, 100 issues up against. For a first issue you hated, that issue can determine whether you buy the next issue. Most comics are somewhere in between.
In concept, Join the Future #1 excites me! Writer Zack Kaplan knows how to make a damn good pitch. The future, for Kaplan, is one where megacities scoop up the last holdouts of small town Americana. Bigger and better, right? And ain’t that just the old fear, creepin’ up? Some of the best fiction, especially speculative fiction, especially especially science-fiction, helps us reflect on the world, on some of those fears. I think about the Electoral College and how its supporters worry that so-called coastal elites will strong-arm their way of life. We don’t need another op-ed; I want someone to pick at the root of that fear.
And, to Kaplan’s credit, Join the Future does some of that work. Towards the middle of the issue, there’s a scene where Clem, the protagonist, has an asthma attack while out hunting with her father and brother. However, Clem has lost her inhaler somewhere along the way. Without hesitation, her father, the mayor of one of the holdout towns, takes her to someone that can save her. The “Trader” uses Future Tech, prompting Clem to ask, “Did you use a machine on me?” And all I can think about are the people I know who’ll deny science so long as nothing goes wrong. All the rugged individualism in the world can’t save your life.
Then, there’s this other scene towards the end. I don’t want to get too into it, since it’s probably the moment that resonated the most with me, but it lands on a simple question: “Ever wonder what else we’re missin’?” I wondered that all the time when I was growing up, and, eventually, I found my answers. This scene is peak small town America, and it’s almost enough on its own to make me recommend the issue outright.
And, actually, that’s part of the thing about Join the Future. I really do enjoy a lot of the middle of this issue. Where it falls apart, for me, is the beginning and the end. The opening features an advertisement for a mega-city. It’s sleekly designed and alluring — as it should be. But the optics bug me. A marketably diverse crowd selling the viewer things that are genuinely utopian. It’s Amazon representative-esque, and I know that I’m supposed to be attracted and unsettled, and I am. But … well, it tasted a little weird in my mouth, especially when, two scenes later, the mayor, an older white guy, starts talking about values and being “owned” by the system. It’s a little “This is the future liberals want!” — even if I don’t think that’s what Kaplan was going for.
As for the end? While I’m not going to talk about the end in detail, I do have to wonder why Clem had to be knocked into the plot in quite the way that she does. It feels gratuitous, makes the scene immediately preceding it feel cheaper for its inclusion, and, frankly, ratchets up the tension so swiftly that it pulled me out of the world that Kaplan and Piotr Kowalski were creating.
Speaking of Kowalski, the art meshes incredibly well with the kind of story I think they’re trying to tell. Kowalski, especially when drawing Clem, does some lovely micro-expressions, while not leaning into such a realistic style so as to make the book feel artificial. However, he doesn’t take advantage of the form nearly enough. Join the Future feels less drawn and more storyboarded, almost ready-made for television adaptation. And I’d probably watch the hell out of this! But, save for a particular page and a couple shots, the feeling of this book ends up seeming excessively, well, stuck in the past. The only thing that feels really forward-looking, and “comic-y” to me is Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering on sounds, especially towards the end. “Szzzzooooooo,” indeed.
I haven’t decided yet whether I want to join the future. There’s a lot to like here, but it could’ve done so much more.
And that’s how this issue left me: wanting.