It’s the penultimate issue of Thumbs, and Charley Fellows has come a long way. The book has been a long and complicated exploration of technology and how it affects us as a society. In each issue, we see a different aspect of how an over-reliance or extreme hatred of technology can shape society in very different ways. Thumbs #1 explored technology most directly as a jail cell, looking at how we were trapped by the devices all around us. Pixels became bricks and screens became walls. Thumbs #2 explored technology as a poison, seeping into our bloodstreams and getting us addicted without feeling any remorse. In Thumbs #3, technology became a means to and end, removing it from our world to help powerful players achieve their agenda. In some ways, technology is at its most complex in Thumbs #4, where it is a tool, a weapon, and a beacon of hope for those that have only known oppression. It feels weird to even call the world in Thumbs #4 as one that’s oppressed. Technology is banned, which is an infringement on personal freedom, but is it the same as a world where children are fighting for food, water, and basic resources? Has technology become a basic necessity? From the way that children are ostracized and driven underground for using it in the issue, it seems like it may be.
We quickly meet the People’s Republic of Mom, or “Mommers,” a band of children who hide in a trailer park in the forest instead of in the city so they can keep using technology. You may recall that Charley’s heavy use of technology stemmed from living in a trailer park with his sister, neglected by his parents. History’s definitely repeating itself after a short six years and as Charley says, “…it’s nothing short of a motherf*cker.” You see kids with similar VR devices as Charley had when he was trying out for what would be Camus’s army. It’s heartbreaking to see more children going through what he did, but it’s also evidence of the idea that the same problems persist through radical solutions. These radical ideas and this new society didn’t fix anything, it just drove it underground. Think about all of the issues that powerful, often oppressive governments try to hide from their citizens in our world. The world of Thumbs is mimicking those sentiments brilliantly, both narratively and visually. Sherman’s bright, loud splashes of pink used to overwhelm the urban landscape and heavily decorate suburbia. Now Power City is a black and white wasteland when it comes to technology while the forests and sewers are sprinkled with pink. It’s not gone, just relocated.
It’s Nia who appears to be their leader, and the entire situation causes a big rift between Charley and Nia. In characteristic bright pink caption boxes, Charley narrates about how these children are blindly following a symbol or figurehead just as he did with Camus. Unfortunately, the answer to all of their problems doesn’t lie in any one symbol or cause. Charley voices his frustrations in front of very powerful images of innocent children who chant at the prospect of a revolution. Sherman is masterful at creating these powerful images and layouts — there are a lot of rectangular panels, but they don’t follow many of the traditional rules of comics. You won’t find very many grids, but rather a lot of splash pages or pages with large panels that allow Sherman’s art to flourish. The landscapes and more cinematic scenes are still beautiful in the blue, gray, and purple color palette. Most of the power in this issue comes through in the visuals. The visual repetition of the trailer park hits home more than a lot of the dialogue. Nia and Charley’s head-on faces, their dynamic movements, and their close-up expressions radiate a lot more emotion the the dialogue does.
It’s important to note that this issue is largely setup and, unfortunately, feels like it. Lewis and Sherman are moving a lot of pieces around for the final showdown and it’s easy to see that. It’s not an inherently bad thing, but the issue really feels like its beginning and ending states matter a lot more than the journey there. You can feel some requirements being checked off a list, such as bringing the characters together, upping the emotional stakes, providing more backstory for the villains etc. It works against the book a bit in this issue and it’s part of why Sherman’s visuals do more of the heavy lifting, which they pull off with ease.
In Power City, we see that illicit substances always have power and followers wherever they go, and Mom™ is no different. They’re a regular badass in this scene, meeting up with a follower and putting the plan into action. Mom™ has evolved through the issues as well, if only through language and general positioning. She started as a somewhat friendly caretaker and Baymax-like figure but has since become a more threatening force. She will surely be instrumental in the final issue. Before discussing the final scene, it’s important to mention who Charley is in all of this.
Charley Fellows in fairly average in this world. Sure, he was in the top one percent or so that made Camus’s army, but within the army itself, he was not remarkable by any means. He wasn’t exceptional at either the virtual components or the real world components, and that’s probably why he was out of commission for almost all of the war. Nia was a fighter and she was good. She survived while fighting the war seemingly in its entirety. We haven’t seen many other surviving members of Camus’s army, so Nia was likely one of a very very select few. Taking this into account, their viewpoints make sense. Nia fought through it all. She saw all of the blood flow, the sweat exerted, and the tears fall. She experienced the struggle and sacrifice for six long years. To give up on that would mean it was all for nothing, wouldn’t it? At the same time, Charley woke up after all that time and only saw the carnage, what was lost, and that nothing has really changed. It wasn’t worth it at all really, and the cause itself was flawed. Charley’s coma allows him to take a step back and view things from a more objective lens, and from the viewpoint, it’s easy to see that it didn’t work. Society is not better.
As we move to the final scene, we see that Camus lost and is forced to work under those in power. Luckily, it seems he may have set a few long-term contingency plans. Tabitha realizes this and is thrown into a state of shock. Imagine if everything you’ve been indoctrinated with stemmed from false pretenses. It’d be hard not panic in that moment. The forces in power hope to use technology to double down on their agenda and attempt to overwhelm Tabitha with their narrative. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The narrative. Control the narrative. Control the people. Control the world. That’s what this fight is about, that’s what Tabitha begins to see, and that’s the message Thumbs #4 presents to us, the readers.