Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.
The Gatecrashers: A Night of Gatecrashing by Zachary Mortensen and Sutu – Ghost Robot 2014
When a bomb explodes in the center of a densely packed protest rally, Gatecrasher Hex Spencer is the first on the scene and what begins as a routine call shifts into a life-threatening chase through choked streets of Palomar City. Hex's only concern is saving her patient and collecting her fee but with each turn she is drawn further into a complex web of power that will destroy anything – or anyone – that gets in their way.
Welcome to Palomar City, a tightly packed, overpopulated American mega-city. Over the last sixty years, a series of traffic control devices known as Gates have transformed this thriving metropolis into a pressure cooker of political and socio-ethnic tension that is on the verge of exploding. One of the only groups with unrestricted passage through the gates are the emergency medical teams, nicknamed “The Gatecrashers,” who find themselves in the middle of a building conflict that threatens to tear Palomar City apart once and for all.
I picked up Book One of The Gatecrashers while I was at New York Comic Con in 2014. I was on the lookout for independent comics that seemed interesting. I had walked past Zachary Mortensen plugging his work a couple of times over the weekend, and his comic kept catching my eye. I'm glad I checked it out, because The Gatecrashers has a lot going for it in it's own unique way.
It's not uncommon to see fiction celebrate the actions of law enforcers and soldiers but we don't often see many of the real everyday heroes get the focus in our space operas or dystopian cyberpunk worlds quite as much. The Gatecrashers is different because it focuses on characters who are basically Ambulance Drivers. Hex Spencer isn't a gun slinging maverick in a dirty world, she's just an employee trying to do a respectable job in the face of bureaucracy and bullshit.
The Gatecrashers feels very timely. While it doesn't target any specific political issues it does focus on a lot of areas that affect the working class in the current western world. Healthcare, civic unrest, questions of police jurisdiction and corporate corruption are all touched upon in the world of The Gatecrashers.
In a week where the UK saw a Junior Doctors strike, reading The Gatecrashers feels that little bit more personal.
Sutu's artwork really brings the world of Palomar city to life too. The use of colour really helps to set the scene of a dirty and run down city, with warm oranges and neon blues used to particular effect. His style takes a little getting used to and has a certain warped quality to it, but it really suits the setting of a corrupt and tired world. It reminded me a lot of Peter Chung's work on Aeon Flux.
The book's plot gets going thick and fast, essentially serving as a day in the life of a Gatecrasher, with reporter Archie McAlester serving as the audience surrogate. It's a great framing device, and sets up the conflict to be genuinely intriguing. The characters are all warm and relatable, if being a little one-note this early in the plot. Hex is an engaging protagonist and is given enough time to suggest there may be a few different sides to her personality.
Where the comic does stumble is in its sense of world building. There's a lot going on in the first volume of The Gatecrashers and what back-story we're given is told in passing just a little bit too casually. There's a big conspiracy surrounding one district in the city being annexed by another but a lot of the fine details are easy to miss, and you might find yourself struggling to understand character motivations when the action gets going.
Not helping is a lot of world building being left to bonus portions at the back of the book. It's obvious that Zachary Mortensen has taken a lot of time and put a great deal of thought into the fictional world of Palomar City, but far too much time is spent telling it in the margins, rather than showing it during the story.
The whole thing could have done with just a little bit more time spent introducing us to the fictional world. Just a short sequence or a page or two would have done.
It's also worth mentioning that The Gatecrashers release schedule has been slow going, only issue five has been released since Book One in 2014, but issue six is due to be out this month. Here's hoping the series continues from it's strong opening.
Beyond that though, A Night of Gatecrashing is otherwise a great introduction to the series. It's hook is different, it's art is striking and the story ends with a lot of interesting places to go. If you like your cyberpunk, but would like to see the genre from a different perspective, then I highly recommend you check the series out.
Jack Harvey 2016. The Gatecrashers (c) 2014 Zachary Mortensen and Sutu. Images used under Fair Use.