I had the great fortune of meeting up and coming comic legend Andrew MacLean at Boston Comic Con last August. I purchased two copies of his attractive comic Head Lopper and savored every page. When I saw his name pop-up on the list of reviews for this week, I knew I had to check out his new graphic novel. Is the magic from Head Lopper still there? Is it good?
ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria For the End Times (Dark Horse Comics)
ApocalyptiGirl is a character study. It takes an extremely detailed look at the psychological profile of a young girl during the apocalypse on an extremely weird planet. Aria is her name, and boy, what a character she is. The first thing we notice about Aria is that she’s funny. From her belting operas to her cat to her witty one-liners, Aria is no Will Smith from I Am Legend. She’s very much alive, even if the world isn’t. She’s lighthearted, and informative, yet doesn’t take too much time to drop exposition. Mainly, she’s just a very likable character and a terrific narrator.
The one character beat that Andrew MacLean hit the best, was how charming and tender Aria is. The first example of this would of course be her unyielding optimism in trying to salvage the decaying skeleton of a robot. She clearly cares about things larger than herself, and even though the world has gone to waste, she hasn’t let it make her life obsolete. She has tasks, and things she needs to take care of. This is in no way a story of a survivor in a tough time, this is a story of a beautiful life flourishing in a less than ideal setting.
Another trait that makes Aria wonderful is her peacefulness and her almost total lack of anger. This is not to say that Aria doesn’t run into situations which might provoke anger; in fact, it would be totally reasonable for Aria to be a miserable, furious grouch because of the position she’s in. However, Aria isn’t a violent or mean-spirited person. She does kill, but she reminds herself that she’s “not a killer” and that the world just requires her to do certain things to keep herself alive. This makes her an easier character to identify with. I think that any one of us might go to some drastic measures to keep ourselves alive, but we’d probably never get used to it, and certainly never take any pleasure from it. Aria demonstrates that in a way that’s easy to read and relate to.
I find that very often in apocalyptic stories authors will tell the readers all there is to know about the world that the story is taking place in within the first couple of issues. For me, this kind of ruins the experience. I like to learn little nuggets of information about the characters’ habitat as I go along, so I can feel as though I am actually living in the world with the characters. ApocalyptiGirl introduces and teaches us about the world masterfully. I felt like I learned a lot about the apocalyptic setting without feeling as though all sorts of information was shoved down my throat. The world felt vibrant, the two warring tribes within it each had very distinct and entertaining personalities, and the way that the setting was almost made into a character itself, with its own backstory and feelings, was really delightful. By the end of the story, the world in which the story takes place in is one of the characters we care most about.
Oftentimes in today’s media, violence is glorified. One of the effects of the glorification and the commonality of violence in movies, TV shows and comics is that we are desensitized to some pretty horrible stuff. Oftentimes violence doesn’t surprise or horrify us as much as it truly should. In ApocalyptiGirl, I felt genuinely frightened by the violence. The way the fight scenes were rendered with explosive colors and quick moving lines made the issue tense and exciting. It also did seem to be truly disturbing when someone died, there was not an infinite body count so every death seemed shocking and horrifying.
People may read ApocalyptiGirl, but they will certainly remember it for its magical art. This book reads like a movie. It honestly feels like the panels are moving by themselves, using sharp lines and exquisite emotion to demonstrate what’s happening and how it feels on every page. Andrew MacLean is also a master of colors. The bright hues and clever minimalistic coloring lead to some sensational moments. By personal favorite pages of art was the beautifully rendered fight on the train. The action was crisp, the tension real and the anguish almost too hard to take.
Is It Good?
This MacLean guy should be watched very closely. Every work he produces is brilliant and this spectacular graphic novel may be the best yet. An easy recommendation to anyone who likes being happy.