Imagine if most of the climate change were billionaires’ faults, but instead of doing anything they just played around on an island. Wait, uh… Imagine if local reporting and papers were being defunded, allowing powerful people to get away with more illegal activities. Oh, uhm, huh. Imagine if wealthy corporations were testing dangerous products on poor and disadvantaged countries with fewer resources who were unable to protect themselves.
Billionaire Island in many ways doesn’t feel as speculative, or as satirical, as it is. It feels like it’s five minutes in the future, not ten. In that way, it is a clear extension of some of his other works that I’ve read, including The Flintstones (also with artist Steve Pugh), Prez, and The Snagglepuss Chronicles. All of these series, including Billionaire Island, have more than just a kernel of truth, and they all deal with similar themes. They skirt close enough to to reality that they feel timely and critical, but they’re all still ridiculous enough to come across as comedic. While have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Russel, I think Billionaire Island is my favorite.
I think this comic succeeds in a couple of different ways, but something that stands out to me is the main difference it has with Russell’s other works, which is that the plot pretty much stays focused on out two leads. It doesn’t establish many side characters or pay too much attention to anyone who isn’t essential. Now, that hasn’t always proved to be a flaw in his previous works, but I do like how focused Billionaire Island stays. On the other hand, this comic doesn’t have any characters reminiscent of or as powerful as the vacuum cleaner was in The Flintstones, so there are benefits to both writing styles. The strong focus that this series has, though, helps to solidify the themes and keep me moving through the comic at a nice pace.
Steve Pugh more than proves that he’s one of the best in the industry with this series. His skill at depicting body language is delightful, and his storytelling is clear, even without using grids often. Humor is one of the hardest things to sell in comics, but Pugh does it wonderfully throughout every issue. Beyond that, he’s a mater of his style. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass only came out a little over a year ago, but it does not look like it was made by the same hands who made this. Very cool to see happen!
One final point I wanted to be clear on has to do with what I wrote in that first paragraph above. I would not fault anyone if they read what this series is about and decided that it’s too close to current events right now. I completely understand using comics, and entertainment in general, as escapism. What’s more, it can be taxing reading a bleak satire even if you’re prepared for it. I will say, while this comic isn’t a total optimistic ray of sunshine, it does ring as more positive than other Russell series, and I’d almost describe its ending as hopeful. It largely sticks to making fun of the bad situation we’re currently in as humans, but it does a good job at not miring itself in it, and instead finding a way to have fun through most of it.
Billionaire Island is the best comic satire of the year, looking at some of humanities’ existential threats with a grimace and a chuckle.