Black Mask Studios is quickly cementing themselves as a top comic publisher, hitting home run after home run with books like Black, We Can Never Go Home Again, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, Calexit, Young Terrorists — you know what, I’ll run out of room if I keep going… The Wilds #1, from rising star writer Vita Ayala and newcomer artist Emily Pearson, keeps the streak alive for the publisher with a debut issue that is engrossing, entertaining, and home to hauntingly beautiful art.
I can’t count the amount of debut issues I read that are 20 pages of exposition and only 10 pages of actual story progression. Thankfully, The Wilds wastes no time with exposition and drops readers right into the end of the world. Contextual information about life in this apocalypse are dropped throughout the book rather than unloaded on the reader all at once. This allows the reader to take in the unnervingly hollow landscape without being bogged down by endless details that really aren’t pertinent yet.
On the surface, The Wilds may seem like another ordinary post apocalyptic zombie book, but it quickly sets itself apart from the pack. There’s a mysterious safe haven for survivors of the end of the world called “The Compound” that is either a beacon of hope or a corrupt stronghold where the elite control the underprivileged — but it’s never revealed which. There are hints dropped on both sides of the argument, but it never becomes abundantly clear whether either train of thought is right.
The role of the Runners, contracted couriers who carry messages and goods from the Compound to outlying settlements, is mysterious in its own right. I can’t tell if the Runners are brave volunteers to be celebrated or glorified indentured servants who should be pitied. It’s noted that they’re not allowed to leave the Compound until their contracts expire, but in the apocalypse, what good is a contract? What can the Compound offer that causes the Runners to put their lives on the line?
The Compound has a militaristic yet corporate feel, so it’s hard not to feel like something fishy is going on. The mystification of the Compound and its Runners helps make this first issue such a treat — intriguing uncertainties that I am excited to dig deeper into in coming issues.
There’s a lot to love about The Wilds, but the emerging conflict between protagonist Daisy and her lover Heather was one of the highlights in how it not only put the intensity of their love on full display, but also furthered the mystery about the Compound.
In one camp, you’ve got Daisy, who believes that the Compound’s command of Runners saves lives out in the Wilds, so if she left the Compound she would have blood on her hands. In the other camp you have Heather, convinced that the Compound abuses the Runners to live in abundance while they hide behind their walls.
Is Daisy just too naive to see that she’s nothing more than an indentured servant to the post-apocalyptic elite? Or is Heather holding onto anti-establishment tendencies from the old world that are making her paranoid? It isn’t clear just yet who’s right, but it’s obvious the true nature of the compound is putting a strain on their relationship and will surely cause a rift once that nature is revealed.
Among the mystery of The Compound, Ayala does a wonderful job introducing the virus that ended the world — by not introducing it at all. It may frustrate some readers — these aren’t your usual zombies, after all — but I think Ayala’s decision to withhold the true nature of the inflicted immerses the reader in the world more. Just like the characters in the world, the reader doesn’t know what’s happening to everyone.
Emily Pearson’s art is perfect for this story. Its simplicity makes the moments in the Wild so unnerving, as a lone car drives down a desolate highway set against a gorgeous sunset while the infected roam unchecked. Meanwhile the designs of the infected are such an exquisitely unique take on the typical zombie. Rather than decaying flesh, Pearson’s zombies are sprouting budding flowers, as if nature is reclaiming the sick. The only points where the art suffers are in the case of action sequences; movements and speed are not very well depicted, causing scenes of violence or action to lack any, well, violence.
The Wilds #1 presents so many questions and not many answers, but the questions are so interesting I wasn’t frustrated, just excited for the second issue. This series is off to a great start, with a fresh take on the zombie genre that focuses less on the infected and more on the mysteries that plague the everyday lives of the survivors.