Wasteland #1

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten
48 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

It’s easy to pre-judge a comic based on the way it looks. “Oh look, it’s a new post-apocalyptic series,” you might say. “It’s the same sort of thing we’ve seen over and over again. Surely there’s nothing new or different about this one.” But while it’s easy to pre-judge, it’s often harder to actually be right all of the time.

Since the Big Wet, life’s been anything but easy. Supplies are in short demand in Providens, the sand-eaters are lurking on the outskirts of town, and the settlement of Newbegin is four to five days away for the most experienced of travelers throughout the frontier. Then a stranger comes to town, and things are about to get shaken up—big time.

What really won me over with Antony Johnston’s story for the first issue of Wasteland was that he shows the reader that he understands the conventions of genre fiction even as he slightly twists them to make for a more interesting story. He knows all about the standard “mysterious stranger shows up to help a small town” and then just when you think that everything’s going to wrapped up in a nice bow, it’s not. That’s the point where if you weren’t sold already, you will be. It’s in many ways the final element getting added into Johnston’s script; he’s already got some interesting pieces added in at that point like mysteries, interesting characters, and promises of a larger picture, but this is where there’s a dash of unpredictability added in. This isn’t going to take every safe step, and likewise each action will have a different reaction spinning out of it. When one big tragedy hits, Johnston’s going to take it to its logical conclusion. I really like that.

Don’t get me wrong, like I said before, Johnston has more going for the writing of Wasteland than just unpredictability. His characters and his world-building are doing the lion’s share of the work here, keeping your interest up throughout the first issue by carefully laying out new pieces of information and excitement to make you keep turning the pages. Shock for the sake of shock can only go so far if there’s nothing else to keep your attention, after all. This is a fertile enough world (so to speak) with enough story potential for Johnston to keep going for years, with both hints of the past as well as the nature of this new world with its own corrupted language and place names. And with enough mystery (both in terms of setting as well as characters) set up in just this first issue, Johnston will have fun revealing it to his readers in time.

Christopher Mitten is an artist who keeps improving with each new project. Wasteland is by far his strongest work yet, showing a real eye for composition. There’s an almost-cinematic look to his art, pulling up to an overhead view of the scene to let the reader see the entire area in its entirety. From the corpses of sand-eaters scattered around the form of a mysterious stranger, to the interior of Abi’s home, it always provides an impressive look into the world of Wasteland, with Mitten taking as much care to create the look of cliff walls and discarded links of chain as he does the main characters. Speaking of which, I’m also really happy with the look of the cast of Wasteland. These are characters who wear functional (rather than “cool”) clothes, but at the same time each look distinct and recognizable instantly. A lot of Wasteland‘s believability to the reader is tied up in the look and feel of the book, and Mitten definitely delivers the goods. Add in a strong usage of grey tones to add depth and texture to Mitten’s art, and easy to follow layouts and a real sense of motion in action sequence, and it holds together wonderfully.

It’s been a while since Oni Press debuted an ongoing series in a staple-bound comic format, but reading Wasteland #1 makes me understand why the company decided this was a strong enough series to publish on a continuing monthly basis. Wasteland is an excellent debut, easily the best work I think I’ve read by either creator to date. If the quality continues—and I have no doubt that it will—this is a new gem to place in Oni’s crown. Fantastic job, all around.

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