City of Dust #1

Take Judge Dredd, replace the black comedy with guilt-ridden angst, swap out the tricked-out motorcycle for a flashy jetpack, and drop him in a Fahrenheit 451-meets-1984 dystopia and you get City of Dust, the latest eye-popping release from promising upstart Radical Comics.

In this future, the government had achieved a very draconian method of preventing the conflict and strife that is the unfortunate byproduct of religious partisanship and supernaturalism: they have completely outlawed "imagination crimes". That means not only prayer and holy teachings, but also mythology, fairy tales and fantasy stories of all kinds (even comics!) are strictly verboten.

Philip Khrome is a tortured man who carries a heavy burden. When he was a child, a heartless teacher overheard him relating to a schoolmate a bedtime story that his father had told him the night before. The next day, his Dad was hauled away and sentenced to life in prison "for attempting to poison a child's mind with impossible ideas". As an adult, the haunted Khrome still tells people that he turned his father in, even though his childhood mistake was quite accidental. Obviously, it's a hard thing to overcome, and Khrome seems to be having a hard time connecting to anyone around him in a meaningful way.

But here's the kicker: Philip Khrome is now a cop, sometimes charged with taking down mind criminals very much like his own dad. He not only patrols the skies but carries enough tech to be a one-man CSI team and has the authority to be judge, jury and executioner to collared suspects. The fact that he is now doing for a living the very thing that messed him up so much psychologically makes the entire series immediately compelling for anyone like me who picked up this book on a whim.

I have seen Steve Niles' name around before, but not being a huge horror fan I don't think I've read anything of his previously. While this comic is firmly science fiction with its future setting and advanced gadgetry, there are definitely horrific elements to the comic as well. Not only is the entire society depicted as a sinister unfeeling bureaucracy to the average citizen, but in the opening moments a silly rich couple slumming in the seedy side of town meet a gory fate, and there is a brief interlude with a Franksteinian scientist and monster that we will clearly become more acquainted with as this miniseries progresses. The entire set up, from the main character to the world he in inhabits to the mysteries and plot twist, is well-executed and leaves this reader enthusiastic to come back for the rest of the story.

The artist/colorist on this title is credited only as "Zid", but anyone who can make a comic look this great can call him/herself whatever they like. Judging strictly on the linework, I would rate Zid "quite good" as an artist but the fantastic coloring and lighting effects elevate the pages to a whole new and very gorgeous level. Once in awhile the characters look too posed-- for example at one point a female cop who walks up to talk to Khrome puts a hand on her hip and strikes a pose like she's about to be photographed for the cover of Vogue-- but overall City of Dust looks spectacular.

Radical Comics love to play the multiple-cover game with their releases-- not only the first issues, but for the whole runs of their miniseries there are four or more covers to choose from. I'm not the kind of collecting maniac that would ever buy them all, but I guess it is nice to have a choice of which one you like best. Personally, I picked the gorgeous Arthur Suydam cover (pictured above), even though Khrome inside doesn't really look anything like how he's depicted on this cover. Oh well, it's still pretty.

I have to say, I am really impressed with Radical Comics from what I've seen so far. Not only is City of Dust #1 great, I was impressed enough with the first issue of Freedom Formula to follow that series as well. Now they are soliciting another sci-fi epic called Shrapnel that looks very promising as well. I also need to point out that although this has a somewhat steep price tag of $3.99, there are 44 pages of story within-- that's double the average monthly "Big Two" comic, with a cardstock cover and glossy pages to boot. I find myself hoping beyond hope that Radical is one of the indy comics that gain a foothold and stick around, because they are quickly become one of the premiere sources of quality science fiction adventures.

Rating: 9/10

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