Post-futures are often fertile subject matters in the world of comics, indie or otherwise. Two (somewhat) recent additions to this genre are Taking Off by Jack Bracken and The Infected by Chris Hartmann. Each work occupies a different approach to the medium, with The Infected being presented as a webcomic and Taking Off as a small press prose/comic fusion, however the subject matter and tone unifies them in the metaphor of the post industrialized world.
Within each title a primary male protagonist deals with the undoing of himself in a post-future landscape that is heavily involved in the effects of bioscience. Taking Off, published in 2010, follows the first person account of an unnamed homeless man, tired of living amongst the dirt and pollution of the darkened sky scrapper filled world. In his weary state, he decides to follow up with an ad seen in the Village Voice like publication that he uses to keep warm and out of the soot at night. The ad offers the opportunity to get out of the dirty ground based life with the promise of “WANT TO FLY? APPLY NOW”. All it will take is a little genetic modification to get there.
Similarly in The Infected, a young man, Jacob, awakens after a mysteriously long time to find an urban world almost uninhabited, save for the infection ridden zombielike “Supers”, military forces, and a band of unlikely but capable outsiders that are trying to save those few that may have been left behind. While working with this outsiders group, Jacob finds his younger sister and is forced to come to terms that something may have been altered in both of them due to their new found and unusual powers.
Taking Off is a book at a glimpse – it is the simple moment of decision and its immediate ramifications. Bracken provides readers the details of background and motivation in a four page prose based story. The writing is concise and sympathetic. When the main character longs to be out of the dirt and pollution that traps him as he sleeps on the streets, it becomes easy to accept his quick decision to abandon his land based human form through the help of science, as this previous form wasn’t providing any advantages. The second part of the book infuses the smart writing in slivers on top of well crafted pen and ink drawings, created by Niles Taverner, that illustrate the dark world and the main characters dance above it in his new feathered form. Seemingly about to provide a Icarus type tale of too much desire, Taking Off actually just provides a short book that is about freedom and the necessary, though often hard, decisions necessary for it to happen.
The Infected, written by Chris Hartmann and illustrated by Dave Mims, is a more traditional fare, though it is currently served up in a somewhat webcomic form. Though the story is not yet complete, from what has been written to date, the main character Jacob is coming to terms with changes to both himself personally and physically as well as the world around him. Unfortunately for him, he had no involvement with these decisions; the changes were thrust upon him.
The comic is a long form narrative, with an arc that is a little hard to read on a small incremental basis. The Infected is crying out to be a print comic (which it sees like it will be after a successful Kickstarter campaign) or at the very least, downloaded as a completed read even if it is in digital form. The art is dynamic: high intensity lines with a sketch like quality increase the energy in a lonely interior landscape of Jacob and exterior infected world. Though engaging in popular tropes of zombies and super heroes, Hartmann still makes the story feel personal and contemplative instead of just cashing in on overused popular ideas. Through rooms of corpses and many explosions, Jacob, his sister and the outsiders helping them are sympathetic characters. When one is killed, it carries weight. It is speculated that the genesis of the Super’s disease and Jacob’s new powers are one in the same, and hopefully Hartmann, whose writing has been smart and well paced, will continue and deliver a well thought out, interwoven, meaningful conclusion to what has already unfolded.
Fighting against a darkness that is not desired nor personally created is a well worn path in comics, but not one that has been worn out. Both The Infected and Taking Off use this world to explore the inner realm in ways that are smart and engaging and worth the small journey out into a mapped, but ever expanding territory of the dark future.