Steve Niles, Master Horror Comic Scribe, has been churning out book after book in the past two months. First off, was CRIMINAL MACABRE: CELL BLOCK 666, which was reviewed in Comics Creepshow 8. There were also his two Gotham city based books, BATMAN: GOTHAM AT MIDNIGHT and SIMON DARK. EPILOGUE, his new miniseries about a man turned into a vampire, who has decided to use his supernatural abilities to fight crime, was another possible candidate for review here, but I chose another book for this week’s column.
CITY OF DUST, from Radical Publishing, came out this month and it features a departure from the normal setting found in a Steve Niles story. The majority of Niles’ books take place in the present day, while CITY OF DUST takes place in the far future. In this future, all forms of storytelling inspired by imagination or abstract thought are forbidden, from morality tales like the story of the Tortoise and the Hair, to any type of religious belief. This is based on the teachings of Henry Ajax, who claimed that religious beliefs and superstitions are what inspired the conflicts that almost wiped out humanity.
We have seen this type of future before, in the Ray Bradbury written classic, ‘Fahrenheit 451’, where books were burned by firemen, to prevent the release of “disturbing ideas”. Also, in the lesser known film, ‘Equilibrium’, starring Christian Bale, we see a dystopian future, where all forms of art and literature are prohibited, to prevent citizens from experiencing “dangerous emotions”. CITY OF DUST follows in the tradition of this type of storytelling, and many similarities can be found in its plot.
Phillip Chrome, CITY OF DUST’s main character is an enforcer of the law, like Montag, the main character in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and Preston, Christian Bale’s character in ‘Equilibrium’. Simmilar to Preston, Chrome has adhered so strongly to the rules of his society, that as a child, he actually turned in his own father, for telling him a bed time story. Chrome seems to be following in the footsteps of Montag and Preston. Like the other two protagonists, Chrome encounters a free thinker, who has a “subversive relic”.
What makes this a Steve Niles story is that the free thinker is actually a decapitated corpse, and instead of finding a book of poems or a copy of the Bible on the corpse, Chrome finds a children’s book called ‘My Monsters ABCs”. When Chrome calls in to his superiors, they tell him to leave the book alone, and a team will come in to destroy it. Chrome lets his curiosity get the best of him, while waiting for the team. Issue one ends on a cliffhanger, when the team shows up, to find Chrome intently flipping through the pages of the book.
This super censored future is definitely chilling, but where are the real monsters? Well, in the first few pages, we are introduced to a snobbish upper class couple flying around in their hover car. A flying taxi smacks into them, causing the hover car to fall to the lower levels of the city. Now grounded, the two yuppies try to make the best of the situation by getting it on. Before they can, the yuppie man is yanked out of the car by a tremendous deformed arm. The reader cannot see what is going on, but whatever it is, it must be brutal. The yuppie man’s removed rib cage falls to the floor, along with his hollowed out skull and a few random organs. It is very likely that the monsters Chrome is reading about at the end of issue one, will make an appearance in issue two.
That particular sequence is drawn quite beautifully, by the artist only known as Zid. The coloring for this comic is perfect as well. This dark future world is shown with only muted gray tones, making it look very cold and sterile, and fitting in perfectly with the ideology behind the world. When the blood of the innocent yuppies is shed, it is all the more jarring, since the red coloring used is so vibrant. The only other time such intense coloring is used, is when Chrome is in the bedroom of his favorite prostitute. Zid seems to be adept at drawing normal people quite well, making the love scene between Chrome and the prostitute, Kylie, seem beautiful, as opposed to raunchy and gratuitous. Zid is one of the many Radical Comics artists who take the painted look approach to drawing comics. According to the website, Radical Comics is importing the majority of its artists from the Singapore based concept art, comics and illustration studio, Imaginary Friends Studios. By using artists from outside of the country, like Zid, all Radical Comics are drawn with a unique appeal. They are more similar in design to European science fiction graphic novels, than they are to super hero comics, you can find in an American comic book store.
Radical Comics also publishes the comic CALIBRE, which is a new version of the Arthurian legends, set in the wild west, as opposed to Britain in the Middle Ages. The rights to make CALIBRE into a film have already been bought up by a production company owned by Johnny Depp.
What impressed me the most was Steve Niles’ ambition in tackling this kind of story. As you could see from reading my column on CRIMINAL MACABRE: CELL BLOCK 666, I usually consider Steve Niles stories to be for entertainment purposes only, lacking any real depth or a plot that demands a lot of thinking on the readers part. CITY OF DUST is an exception to the rule. CITY OF DUST, like I said before, borders on plagiarizing ideas found in both ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘Equilibrium’, but that is excusable, considering that this type of story is rarely seen in comics, in general. The idea of losing a part of humanity’s soul (in this case, human beliefs) in order to ensure human safety is a challenging one, that should be addressed, especially at this point in history. Unlike other Steve Niles stories, CITY OF DUST keeps the monsters in the background, while showcasing a well thought out, dystopian future. As per usual, there are quite a few memorable lines of dialogue. Chrome, like many other Niles characters (that we only get between four and six comics worth of story to get to know) is extremely likeable, and easy to follow along for the ride.
So, CITY OF DUST gets my recommendation. Not much of a surprise, since it is written by Steve Niles. If you want to catch the “I heart Steve Niles” bug that has infected most of us horror comic fans, go over to SteveNiles.com. Currently, he is running a few contests to tie in with the month of Halloween. It is definitely worth it, if you would like to score a few signed comics or win a 30 DAYS OF NIGHT figurine.