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‘Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future’ review

A long and bloody road trip, one well worth taking.

Madi Preston is no longer a part of the British military, but she remains a soldier. Madi Preston is a hyper-lethal combat cyborg, part of a unit whose enhancements allow specialists (say a hacker, or a surgeon) to remotely operate their bodies in the field when needed. Madi Preston and her unit are in debt up to their eyeballs. She’s burned out on soldiering for international conglomerates, and looking for an exit.

When Steven, a rising executive at the Red Sun corporation, offers her an off-the-books job that could clear her debt, Madi jumps at the opportunity. But in a world where everyone has an angle, jobs are rarely as simple as they sound in conversation. Things go sideways. And soon, Madi’s on the run across the globe with a body full of tech she cannot trust, an amiable and deeply sketchy doctor named Ted, and a boy named Dean who’s carrying paradigm-shifting tech in his head.

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This unlikely trio has a long, strange journey ahead of them. There will be blood. And there will be changes.

Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future is drawn by Dylan Teague, Glenn Fabry, Duncan Fegredo, LRNZ, Ed Ocaña, André Araújo, Simon Bisley, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Tonci Zonjic, Skylar Patridge, Pia Guerra, James Stokoe, R.M. Guéra, Chris Weston, Rufus Dayglo, Annie Wu, David López and Christian Ward. Its colorists are Adam Brown, Jake Phillips, Raúl Arnaiz, Chris O’Halloran, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Marissa Louise, Matt Wilson, Giulia Brusco, Sergey Nazarov, and Nayoung Kim. Its writers are Duncan Jones and Alex de Campi. It’s the third installment of Jones’ “Mooniverse” trilogy – the previous two entries are the films Moon and Mute.

Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future
Z2 Comics

Running the Job

Madi‘s future is relentlessly, remorselessly commodified. Capitalism has pushed so far past horrifying that “horrifying” has become numbingly mundane. Public utilities are only public in the sense that theoretically everyone can use them. But anyone who travels outside the range of the corporation or firm whose transit lines they subscribe to should expect substantial surcharges. The easiest way to get healthcare is by volunteering for medical experiments so shady they could pull double duty as beach umbrellas. Debt is omnipresent. And everything, absolutely everything is open for negotiation.

Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future
Z2 Comics

The Mooniverse is an exhausting place to live, a world of deeply entrenched systems designed to devour people in the name of generating and perpetuating profit. It’s particularly exhausting for Madi Preston. The nature of her cybernetics and her line of work means that her version of the relentless cycle the Mooniverse’s inhabitants participate in could well be an endless, self-reinforcing trauma loop. And when, after a job gone wrong, her sister/commanding officer’s proposed solution is to speed the loop up, Madi’s need to get clear becomes all the more urgent.

The trick is that as destructive and soul-grinding as the loop is, it’s also been Madi’s normal for a long, long while now. When she embarks on her impromptu globe-hopping road trip/escape from Red Sun alongside Dean and Ted, Madi’s out of her discomfort zone. The strangeness of her experiences is further augmented and complicated by two additional factors. The first is the necessity of not relying on her cybernetics, lest someone hijack her body. The second is a patch of missing time.

Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future
Z2 Comics

De Campi and Jones use Madi’s literal and metaphorical journeys as their comic’s engine. It works tremendously well. On a purely structural level, the road trip allows the creative team to stretch Madi‘s form and tone. The work as a whole remains a fairly bleak cyberpunk tale, but the varying characters of the places where Madi, Dean and Ted stop along their journey means that Madi has space for forays into quiet character studies and absurdist comedy, amongst other things.

This variance gives Madi‘s wildly talented art team space to play to their strengths. Simon Bisley makes it abundantly clear how thoroughly dangerous someone with Madi’s skills and cybernetics is in a fight. James Stokoe builds a bombastic, grotesque casino. Annie Wu slickly navigates the pandemonium that rings in the final battle.

While there are a few places where the shift between artists feels abrupt (and in one case the difference in styles is so stark as to be distracting), every one of Madi‘s illustrators does work that is at least very good and more often than not downright splendid. I’m particularly impressed by the way the team integrates the Mooniverse’s omnipresent branding into their storytelling. I’m particularly fond of the cute-kitty-cat-themed tacticool battle armor Red Sun’s goons rock during Madi‘s final battle.

Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future is a strongly written comic throughout, but its most impressive feat script-wise is its deep understanding of its cast. De Campi and Jones bounce their players off one another in ways that are as revealing as they are enjoyable. The villains are a dimensional band of schmucks, and the tale’s ultimate antagonist is pathetic in multiple meanings of the word. He’s a pretty repulsive dude, and he’s simultaneously pitiable – a wretched cretin who doesn’t realize that he wrang out anything good in himself a long way back.

Madi, by contrast, is an intriguing anti-hero. She doesn’t want to do good, she just wants to get clear of a corner of the world that’s devouring her. And yet, in the process of escaping from a planned escape gone sideways, she’s called to right action all the same. Thanks to the care de Campi and Jones take in telling her story, Madi’s a terrific heroine.

Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future earns its storied subtitle. It’s a tour through a fascinating place, a thoughtful extrapolation of how humanity might play out its next hands, and an excellent study of intriguing characters. It’s a damn good comic.

And the violence is crunchy too.

Madi Cover
‘Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future’ review
Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future
'Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future' earns its subtitle. Together, the art team, de Campi and Jones have crafted a steel-eyed, bone-cruncher of a tale about how to live in a time where life has been commodified into oblivion.
Reader Rating1 Vote
The title character is a compelling protagonist -- a soldier worn down by debt and utterly inhuman micro-wars who now insists on getting herself (and her unit) out of the game.
de Campi and Jones take full advantage of the windy-turny nature of road trip storytelling to play with the book's feel and tone.
The Mooniverse is a fascinating - if bleak as heck - setting, and the art team take full advantage of all that it offers.
All of the art is good, but in a few cases the shift in style is so dramatic as to break immersion.
Some of the tale's episodes work better than others, and the flow between segments can be awkward at times.
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