“You don’t know how to change from bad to good; you brought the war to your neighborhood”
I’ve been a fan of Alexis Ziritt‘s art for a few years now, so I try to get what he draws, and Night Hunters from Floating World Comics is one of those, so I picked it up! Dave Baker wrote this sucker, and Robert Negrete lettered it, so that’s that!
Ziritt has kind of a Tom Scioli/Michel Fiffe vibe going on with his art, but it’s still all his own, and this book looks wonderful. He creates a Caracas of 30-50 years in the future (it seems a bit too quick for his nightmare vision, but that’s always the problem with dystopian futures – things in the real world tend to fall apart far more slowly than they’re depicted in fiction), in which cybernetic people wander the streets trying to scrape together a living in junked-up favelas with Orwellian propaganda painted on the walls. His characters are tough, hard-bitten survivors, many with robotic attachments clamped on wherever they can, and his main character, Julian, never takes off his hood because his face is so disfigured. Julian, a young boy injured in a police attack, is “saved” by his father, who gets a mechanic to turn him into a gruesome cyborg, one who can’t speak except in clicks because his vocal cords were destroyed. When Julian grows up, he joins the police – the only way to get anywhere in the world, really – and Ziritt gives him his long hood, with only one red eye visible, and sharp predator’s teeth. Julian’s appearance belies his thoughtful nature, and Ziritt does an excellent job showing us both his horrific reality and, through subtle changes in body language, the way he tries to understand more about what’s really going on around him. Ziritt’s action scenes are excellent, as well, as he uses a ton of details to make the violence feel more visceral, as the explosions and gunfire create more chaos in an already chaotic world. He keeps the violence fresh by showing it in some different perspectives – through rifle scopes, for instance – and his attention to detail gives us weapons that look both clunky and deadly. The coloring is interesting, too, as he often uses one color in an entire panel to make it stand out, and he also uses complementary colors (yellow/blue, red/green) and analogous colors (yellow/red) to very good effect. The biggest problem with the art is that the printing in too dark – the paper in non-glossy, off-white card stock, and it appears that it absorbs the line work and colors a bit too much, and perhaps lighter paper would have been the way to go. If you choose to get this, read it someplace with a lot of natural light, because that’s fine. The minute your surroundings get dark or illuminated by non-natural light, you’re going to have some difficulties. But the art is marvelous, if a bit dark.
The story isn’t quite up to snuff, although it’s entertaining. Baker sets the story mostly in 2078 (although some of it is set 20 years earlier), in a Venezuela that has been turned into a dystopian dictatorship of the kind we’ve seen many times before. In the earlier time period, a man struggles to survive with his two young sons, and when the police sweep the streets and kill one of the sons, he turns to a shady dude to “fix” Julian, as I noted above. In the “present,” Julian is a super-sniper on an elite police task force, and they’re trying to shut down a powerful drug dealer. Naturally, when the protagonist is working for the oppressive regime, eventually he or she is going to start figuring out that things aren’t what they seem, and Julian begins to do just that. The drug dealer isn’t quite as bad as he seems to be, and the police are quite a bit worse than they seem to be, and Julian eventually has to make a choice. Baker doesn’t make it too easy, which is nice, but it’s still the kind of story we’ve seen a lot. As I noted, it’s entertaining, so there’s that, and Baker does make it clear that joining the police force is the only way out of the ghetto for most of the population, something that he could have explored a bit more (we don’t see anything of Julian from the time he gets all his cybernetic parts until he’s a sniper, and his journey to that point is left unknown), but it’s an action comic, so that kind of social commentary is the side dish, not the main course. The characters remain stereotypes, and that’s fine, although it does make this a bit shallower than it could have been. It’s fun to read, and it’s very nice to look at, but it doesn’t say anything new about the state of the world. Like most fiction of this type these days, it benefits from the insanity of authoritarianism that’s, sadly, on the rise around the world, but that doesn’t make the actual text any deeper, just that it feels more relevant because real-life strongmen are acting like spoiled children.
Ziritt’s art is worth a look, and if you’re the kind of person who likes wildly dystopian futures, this will probably scratch that itch. I wish there was more to it, as Baker, it feels, leaves a lot of meat on the bone. But it’s not a bad book by any means. And hey – if you buy it, you support indie comics and a locally owned comic shop (Floating World is in Portland, because of course it is), so there’s that, too!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆