The future is always scary — it’s unpredictable, and can be scary preparing for “the new norm”. No doubt that 2020 was a really crappy year, but instead of drowning in depression and cynicism, we should be optimistic and create a brighter future for everyone. We should think more Star Trek than Blade Runner. In the case of Join the Future – the latest from AfterShock Comics – the title initially suggests a utopia, but after digging in, it’s really a dystopia.
Inspired by several articles about an ongoing trend in rural America in which many residents are moving to suburban and metropolitan areas, writer Zack Kaplan uses this as a sci-fi allegory whilst confining to a western-themed narrative. Set in a future where megacities are considered the promised land where people can live under the economic power and technological advances of these buildings, there are rural towns like Franklin that choose to retain their tech-free independence.
When the townspeople of Franklin are hit hard by the ultramodern authorities of a nearby megacity, the Mayor’s strong-willed teenage daughter, Clementine Libbey, goes on a quest of revenge and resistance as she challenges the city’s control, while clinging to her small-town principles.
Anybody can put their own spin on the allegory behind this story, which is about a simple, small town being corrupted by an ultramodern and more powerful force. We have seen this kind of story before, and presenting in a dark sci-fi future isn’t all that new. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but based on these five issues, why not just tell a simple western tale? Without the sci-fi angle, which really just adds some surface-level shine, the story of revenge and resistance could’ve just as easily been set in the Old West, or present-day Midwest.
There are some modern sensibilities sprinkled in here and there, such as Clem wielding an asthma inhaler and his younger brother Owen listening to music on a handheld device, so there is the potential of a more nuanced narrative about a young mind’s relationship with technology that could inform their own future. Instead, we only get glimpses of a new world rising out of the ashes of a destroyed one, while Kaplan is more concerned with the simple quest of vengeance.
The sci-fi element may only be surface level, but artist Piotr Kowalski really delivers on it, from the initial pages of the first issue presenting a Jetsons-like futuristic city to the sprinkles of advanced technology appearing in the Midwest, such as the pulpy laser weapons. Kowalski does a serviceable job with an art style that is reminiscent of Bryan Hitch, with an emphasis of realistic character designs and huge paneling, aiming for a cinematic look.
While it ends on a cliffhanger that could set up an interesting story afterwards, this opening arc of Join the Future is a redundant mashup of genres that would have worked better as a simple western narrative.
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