American perception of life in Russia is not pretty. From meddling in foreign elections to invasions of neighbors on a whim to a toxic social environment spearheaded by an ego-maniacal leader, Russian life doesn’t exactly sound enjoyable. Crude #1 wades right into the waters of the social ecosystem in contemporary Russia with a bleak, dystopian, and punk-like story about the intersections of discovery, grief, and closure.
Created by first time collaborators but long-time friends Steve Orlando and Garry Brown, Crude #1 is broken up into two distinct parts — the first half of the issue dedicated to the repressed life of a bisexual man named Kiril who abruptly leaves his hometown, while the second half of the issue shifts focus to Kiril’s father Piotr, a bad-ass turned blue collar worker with a violent past hidden from his estranged son.
In the pages depicting Kiril’s all-too-short life, there’s no happiness or light to be found. Kiril’s world is in a constant state of chaos, from his verbal clashes with two lovers as he lashes out in angst against a society that outcasts him to the brawls erupting at the steps of the Assumptions Cathedral to the hints of his disheveled family life. Everything about Kiril’s life is constantly in flux without a sense of normalcy or consistency.
He’s a sympathetic character who I found myself rooting for almost immediately, with his punk rock commitment to individualism and burning desire to effect change. He’s not just a character that members of the LQBTQ+ community can sympathize with, but someone that anyone who feels ostracized can find solace in.
Piotr, on the other hand, is a more mystified character with little development in this first issue. When the story naturally shifts focus to him, I was less interested in the nuances of his character and much more interested in discovering more about what happened to Kiril. Piotr feels less like a character and more like the vehicle moving the reader along the story. Little is revealed about his violent past or his motivations to leave his life as a killer behind other than the tired trope of being a killer-turned family man.
The art direction from Garry Brown truly encapsulates the bleak nature of Crude. Every character is drawn with a look of dissatisfaction on their face replete with wrinkles derived from a grueling life. The environments are purposefully bare — not a hint of extravagance can be found in almost any of the locales Crude visits. This art style submerses the reader in a brutally bleak world, furthering the sympathetic nature of Kiril’s desire for change.
Although readers only get a quick glimpse of Blackstone, the city that Kiril runs off to, it is just enough to get a sense of the intensity of life in the city. Brown’s depiction of Blackstone looks like a combination of futuristic spaceport, Mad Max style cityscape, and functioning refinery. I wish I could’ve seen more in this first issue, but I am excited to learn more about everyday life in this city that Kiril gave up everything for.
There’s enough foreshadowing within Crude #1 to feel the sensation of incoming violence, but those looking for an action-packed slugfest with a Russian John Wick ruthlessly tracking down his enemies will be disappointed with Crude #1. Actually, what brings this debut issue down the most is the utter lack of action.
Readers are supposed to believe that Piotr is a boogeyman-esque former killer, yet he’s only shown throwing haymakers for a brief, chaotic moment. First issues have to be wrought with exposition in order to set up the world’s story, but when the book is solicited like a bloody revenge tale while the first issue is noticeably bloodless it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been duped.
This first issue may not be anything groundbreaking or extraordinary, but it succeeds in laying the foundation to an intriguing mystery set in an utterly bleak world. Crude #1 is still worth picking up for its sense of impending intensity — once this series really gets going, it will be a brutally emotional tale of an absent father’s discovery about his son’s heroic efforts to inflict change in an oppressively close minded society. I just hope it gets there sooner than later.