Crowded #1 gets off to an intriguing start, introducing a believable not-too-distant future, but it’s let down by a grating lead character.
In Crowded #1, everyone wants Charlotte Ellison dead. And I mean everyone – including me. A bespectacled, motor-mouthed redhead who makes a living doing odd jobs she discovers on the internet, Charlie has become a multimillion-dollar target on a crowdfunded assassination app called Reapr. You can see why.
The new title from Image Comics, written by Christopher Sebela, imagines a world that could be days away; one in which you pull out your smart phone and donate to the murder of someone you dislike. But if you find yourself on the wrong end of the patronage, you can pony up for Dfend and get a package deal on a bodyguard. Charlie’s is Vita, the lowest-rated at 1.5 stars. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Crowded #1 is the kind of sci-fi that has tabletops double as computers, but it’s also the kind of sci-fi that hints at a world driven mad by accessibility. (Charlie is astounded that Vita only has one job, even if at present it’s to keep her alive.) The setting seems right around the corner, which makes it easier to see yourself in it – not that you’d want to meet either of these two. Vita seems okay, but it’s difficult to tell. Charlie is insufferable. And both clearly know more than they’re letting on.
That’s the main thing that lets down Crowded #1, which is otherwise compelling in that it’s so worryingly prophetic. A critique of internet-driven culture always takes the same shape; lamenting that we’re always-online, socially, but unavailable in the real world. But that’s a popular theme for a reason: It’s mostly true. Crowded #1 gets good use out of it.
It also makes good use of Ro Stein’s art and Ted Brandt’s colours, which get at a slightly abstract world of burgeoning technologies. There’s more personality in the visuals than there is in the writing – at least the kind of personality you’d get on with. A standout is a full-page cut-away house tour, but there’s plenty more besides. It’s stylish and arresting and, quibbles with characterisation aside, you can’t fault it for pace. Crowded #1 promises a better story that I’m sure subsequent issues will provide.
Still, for now, I’ll be throwing a few quid into the Reapr app. Let’s see what a 1.5-star-rated bodyguard can really do.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.