Crowded takes place ten minutes in the future, so it would be easy to forgive a person for thinking it was a story ripped out of today’s headlines. A scathing commentary on internet fame, modern America, and today’s politics, the release from Image Comics makes sure to turn off its front-facing camera and points its lens at the rest of society. Crowded may seem to have a ridiculous premise, but it also begs the question: is this where we are headed?
Many times a writer is applauded for subtly delivering a topical message in their work. If the point is made too strongly, then story is accused of being “heavy handed.” Writer Christopher Sebela throws subtlety out the window and delivers his message indelicately. The themes of Crowded are shoved in the reader’s face and it works perfectly.
It’s important for other comics or movies to tread lightly when delivering their message since their stories tend to be in a more grounded setting. The story itself may be heady enough and adding a strong social message on top may be too much for audiences to handle. Crowded, on the other hand, is already over the top from its initial premise. This is a world where assassinations can be be crowd funded on the internet and reliance on technology has reached the point where cash seems antiquated and people no longer go to the library to read (Despite how it sounds, seriously, this book does not take place in the present).
Throughout the issue, Sebela tackles modern celebrity head on. Trotter is an assassin who has earned his fame by live streaming his kills. Mobs of adoring fans follow him around like he is an A-list celebrity. The bounty on Charlie’s head is nearing two million dollars, but Trotter and the always present Cameron (who seems to be his PR person) seem to be more concerned with the number of followers he has.
The entire scenario is absolutely ridiculous. Initially, you think there is no way anybody would be able to become popular for streaming murder. Then, you remember that people have come across dead bodies and uploaded them to the internet. Sure, there was outrage about it, but there was also lots of controversy when Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet in 1997.
Just as poignant are the assassination tours that seem to take place in Los Angeles. The entire scene is a hilarious riff that contains elements of fear. In an age where there are ghost tours, tours of celebrity houses, and tours of famous murder sites, a bus tour that includes a complementary firearm seems like the logical next step.
The bright art in Crowded continues to impress. Much like the writing, the art of Ro Stein and the colors of Ted Brandt are outlandish while progressing the plot. The comic may be heavy with social commentary, but it is also an action packed story. This is conveyed in the book’s chases and action scenes. Brandt’s work here is especially noteworthy since the bubbly colors somehow enhance the story.
The writing takes a no holds barred approach that will make readers laugh at the over-the-top nature of what is happening. At the same time, it will be impossible not to reflect on the current state of the world. What is happening in Crowded is absurd, but what is even more absurd is how closely it mirrors our modern world.
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