Peril In Panels Volume 8: Wasteland
Every once and a while, you need to read a good ol’ fashioned post-apocalyptic tale of adventure. And you’re likely to find one, since there’s about an infinite amount of them. Seriously, you can’t throw a tumble-weed down a cracked and empty highway without hitting a story about some desert-walking, abandoned-cityscape searching lone-hero/heroine or their rag-tag group of friends. It’s a classic trope that’s a tad over done. And people love ’em so much. Problem is a lot of them aren’t great at best and are horrible at worst.
But here’s the real kicker: shut up, that’s almost every single genre, you dolt. Superheroes? Over done. Crime noir? Been there, read that. Romantic comedy? Fuck you, you already know the answer. I don’t even need to state more than those three, every trope is being and has already been done.
That’s kind of the entire point of not-judging a book by its cover. But I do get
a little…annoyed, like everyone else when I hear the old tropes being repeated.
But you should give things a chance. Like Wasteland, for example. While not the greatest story ever told, nor is it that genre changing. What it is is fun and imaginative and the first volume (which the one I’ll be discussing) “Book 01: Cities In Dust” is enjoyable and creative enough that I forgive it’s rehashing of tropes. There’s nothin’ wrong with a good trope, just ask TV Tropes.
Anyways, let’s sink our collective mind-teeth into Wasteland, my False Heretics.
First up is the creative team behind it.
Wasteland is a comic written by Anthony Johnston and illustrated by Christopher Mitten, who work very well together, in my honest opinion. Johnston is an award-winning writer who’s done multiple comics, novels and much more. Mitten has been making comics since 2003, worked with Johnston in the past and done various bits of illustration work in multiple comics.
Johnston’s come up with some interesting ways to keep Wasteland from being stale and predictable. Like, for instance, altering the way everybody speaks. Since many generations have past since the world changing event (more on that later) people don’t speak the English language very well anymore. They certainly no longer spell the same way anymore, that’s for sure. The word “Wolves” becomes the more phonetic “Wulves”, for example. That, coupled with all the new-fangled slang terminology makes this feel like a really fleshed out world that these characters inhabit, which in-turn helps the characters feel more like people. It even has it’s own creation-myth about what life was like before the world-changing event! Neat stuff.
Mitten’s art compliments Johnston’s writing in Wasteland incredibly. Great use of black and white, grey-toned art. Stylistic but not too exaggerated. The world of this story really feels like an empty wasteland. Actions are kinetic, expressions always fit the tone of the speaker…nothing ever looks wrong. Mitten does a great job of using everything in his arsenal (minus colour, obviously) to bring this tale to life. And man, when they get into the creation/world altering myth/history deal around the halfway point of the book man, it is fantastic. I really dug the simple, almost paper cut-out look of it. A cross between that and cave paintings. Neat stuff.
100 years ago, an unexplained disaster known as the Big Wet destroyed civilization.
The few remaining members of mankind that survived is trying to rebuild society
(and more importantly, survive) in a landscape that’s barren and dangerous.
A desert scavenger named Michael, who possesses unique powers, has no idea of how old he is and has been walking the wasteland longer than he can remember, is now on a quest to find A-Ree-Yass-I. It is the location where the Big Wet began, according to legend.
Okay, okay, okay. We talked creative, plot, whatever. Let’s get into the monsters.
Does this story have monsters? Yes. Both literal in the form of Dwellers, who’re deformed, animalistic, cannibals who dwell in abandoned cities and Sandies, who’re also deformed, less-animalistic but more sadistic, reptile-like humanoid creatures (they also eat people).
They’re both portrayed very well, with Dwellers being much like zombies, near-silent monsters that’re really more of a threat when they attack in large numbers (which, hey,
if you’re in a city, you can bet there will be) and Sandies having more cunning, attacking more for malice than hunger/survival. They can be dangerous alone or in groups, as they can use weapons, tools and fire, which Dwellers do not. I’m also a fan of how Dwellers
and Sandies communicate. Dwellers make an odd sound, “LILILILILILILI” which can seem pretty off-putting. I mean, imagine a giant, deformed guy with what seem like abnormal tumor-like growths allover him. Now picture 60 pals of his, all making that noise. Geez, I think I’d just piss myself right then and there if I knew that was coming for me. Now Sandies have a more snake-like way of talking. They tend to speak as if all their words are one, slurring s’s and z’s constantly. Instead of “Use fire!” their sentence becomes “YOOOOZFIIIIIIIRE!” And instead of “Stealer” or “Thief” they’d say “Stilla!”
It really drives home the point that not only has the English language fallen apart for regular humans, but these guys as well. They’ve stopped caring about grammar, or forgotten it, whatever.
But all this still allows them to have a kind of intelligence about them, a near hive-mind-esque focus. They’re portrayal makes them seem like actual antagonists and not just lame, brainless monsters.I’d love to get more issues and see where this story has gone to since I stopped checking. There’s currently 8 TPB volumes, I’ve no idea if they’re done or continuing but writing this really makes me want more. And hopefully, you do to.
Do yourself a favour and pick up a volume or eight. At the very least give Cities In Dust a try. It is well worth your time and effort.
To avoid spoilers I won’t be posting a ton of page scans, just random ones I’ve taken from around the web. Just doesn’t feel right to spoil something that’s probably still on-going and not that old (first volume came out in 2007). Just go and buy these fine Oni Press comics, folks.
Please come back in three weeks for my next article. I may even finally do the Neil Gaiman’s Sandman one I’ve been teasing, where I discuss the first volume Preludes and Nocturnes. Also check out the song Wasteland by Adam WarRock on his free Oni Press mixtape, it’s great and captures the spirit of the comic very well.
As always, keep it monstrous everybody.