“If you don’t yield something, people will take everything.”
What happens when a corporation and a government go to war with children involved? Pain, trauma and suffering. Charley “Thumbs” Fellows was a soldier and Adrian Camus’s corporate private army, fell into a coma, and woke up in a world where the war was over… almost. We’ve seen sci-fi stories warn of technology in the wrong hands. We’ve seen war stories enlighten readers about the horrors and traumas of war. But we haven’t seen a combination of the two quite like this. If Thumbs #1 was the introduction and the initiation, and Thumbs #2 was a look at the present day and how things changed, then Thumbs #3 is a brutal and dirty war. To put it in terms Charley might understand, Thumbs #1 was the tutorial, Thumbs #2 was the opening cut scene, and only now are we experiencing the full gameplay. We are dropped right in the thick of a world we don’t understand and all we have is an injured companion and a helpful AI against the rest of the world.
We begin with a look at what Nia endured while Thumbs was in a coma. That fact is that Thumbs slept through an entire war, and that war left a lot of both physical and mental damage. Lewis does a great job of allowing Nia to experience the pointlessness and futility of war, something often encountered by adults, and all of the accompanying emotions. She questions her purpose in deep and meaningful ways, and you feel for this character. Nia doubts herself throughout the entirety of this opening scene and has quite a few heavy lines of dialogue. These are only offset by sassy banter from the Mom™. It’s a constant strain as Nia questions the fight and Mom™ pushes forward, and often times, you feel as conflicted as they do.
The primary draw of this issue is the varied experiences of war. In addition to seeing Nia’s trauma, we see what happens when there’s only a small resistance left, when people lose track of why they’re fighting or they never knew in the first place, and when the results of a war lead to the indoctrination of future generations. We see the past, present, and future of this war laid out before our eyes and can connect causes and effects. It’s a perspective we don’t often get. We aren’t this removed from a fight very often. Only in comics can time be compressed in such a way that we can grasp the full scope of the war and see it in such a limited span of pages. Lewis extracts the core emotional impact from years of struggle and trauma, and concentrates it into Thumbs, Nia, and Tabitha. Each of them has had a unique experience to the same events, and this causes them to react differently to the world around them. Everyone survives war differently, and we’re able to see that.
As always, it’s worth noting the terrific work Hayden Sherman is doing on this title. This issue continues his use of a unique art and color style that simply cannot be found anywhere else. One thing to note is that Thumbs is laid out much differently than a normal comic. For one, the average page of Thumbs contains around three panels, which is much much smaller than the average number of panels per page of any Big Two comic you might pick up. This shows the comic’s size and scope. Thumbs is vast, dynamic, and real. It features a lot of heavy splash pages so that you can soak in these images and have them impact you in ways similar to how they impacted the characters. There is a ton of detailed and immaculate line work here, and none of it feels rushed sloppy, despite the issue’s whopping 52 pages. Some may be quick to point out the largely monochrome palette, but that makes Sherman’s work even more impressive. Other than splashes of hot pink technology, there’s nothing to draw you’re eyes away from Sherman’s line work, and the fact that each page is truly a work of art is a testament to his talent. Sherman is a master of grandiose moments. Thumbs #3 contains a ton of large and long action sequences but they never get old, even as the panel layouts largely remain the same. This is due to Sherman’s use of angles. While the issue consistently uses a lot of splash pages and wide, horizontal panels, Sherman uses a wide selection of angles to convey a ton of dimensionality to every scene. Lettering also plays a much bigger role in this issue, with streaks of hot pink SFX chasing our characters across panels and pages. Sherman delivers a very rich and complete issue that completely elevates the narrative.
Beyond the larger narrative of war, Lewis delivers three different experiences from three different times through three different characters. We experience was Nia went through, what Charley is going through, and what Tabitha is about to go through. There’s a lot less narration in the past a future scenes, and we also learn a lot more about the broader context of this world. This hatred for technology and war-like attitudes towards those who use it was fostered by two individuals with power who were victims of the bad things technology could do. One lost his son due to cyberbullying, and the other lost everything due to a released sex tape. They lost everything and decided to do something about it. As Nia herself says, “Two people who lost so much they decided to change the world.” She resists for hope of a better future, but even Nia’s showing doubt. She constantly asks Mom™ if there’s any hope or if the future is going to be better. Sometimes we lose track of why we fight, and that’s the scariest thing of all.
In the present we see Charley’s strengths and a child so devoted to this cause that he’s willing to die for it. Charley’s character is appealing because of how average he is. He doesn’t have special powers or abilities, and he certainly isn’t the best at the skills required in Camus’s army. He wasn’t that strong or physically fit. He survived because he was clever, creative, and sneaky, and these three traits are significant. We also see a character who served Mom™ in the war and who volunteers to die for the cause. He likely hasn’t heard from Mom™ in years, but is so indoctrinated into the cause that he’s already decided to sacrifice himself, saying, “It was an honor to be raised by you.” It is heartbreaking and frightening to see that these children have already experienced the horrors of war so young. They aren’t thinking or living as children or even people. They’re living as soldiers and killers.
When then get to look at Tabitha being raised as a citizen of the future. The monochrome background switches to a more melancholy blue-gray tone, and Tabitha is hanging out with a friend, appreciating nature. It’s a sweet moment where we learn that her parents didn’t accept her for who she was. That could mean a lot of things, and I don’t think it’s made clear during the issue, but it adds an extra dimension to the character. We see how she reacts when she’s told her brother is alive, and that is an important moment, but the real shock comes when we witness Adrien Camus’s fate. Sometimes, soldiers fight for a cause they believe in, endure the traumas and hardships of war, sacrifice their lives and their health, and then the people in power make a decision that undermines it all. This is what happened in Thumbs #3. Camus and the two individuals who had lost everything are now on the same side. Camus is using the last of his technology to keep people in check. This entire result undermines everything both sides fought for, and it’s enough to make you sick. In this day and age, we all know what it’s like when leaders refuse to serve their constituents. We experience it all the time. Thumbs brings that realism back into the pages in a gut-wrenching way. Get ready to feel sick to your stomach when you learn of the despicable politics being played while children are at war.
Thumbs #3 unveils a whole new dimension to the series. It distills the book’s core messages into raw and brutal character moments while delivering shocking results. It’s the best issue yet for this series and it’s going to get your adrenaline pumping with frustration and sickening anger. If you are reading this book to escape reality right now, you may be disappointed, because Thumbs is as real as ever.
The short after-comic at the end is delightful. Hayden Sherman is able to draw this comic in a classic black and white style that really does look like it came from the fifties or sixties. The detailing is unbelievable and the story is fantastic. Captain Future is an iconic old sci-fi hero and this story feels like it was plucked from 1963 and given the old Mark Russell treatment. In just a few short pages, Lewis and Sherman are able to tell a short companion story that both elevates the main issue and can stand alone.