Young Terrorists Vol. 1 is the latest trade paperback from Black Mask Comics. Written by Matt Pizzolo, who previously wowed audiences with Godkiller (the premise of which sounds UNBELIEVABLY cool: ‘Fallen gods, weaponized orgasms, sex-addicted technowizards, organ-stealing hookers, government conspiracies…’), Young Terrorists is one of these comics that is meant to be hard hitting, gritty, dark. The marketing line for it is from Steve Niles, claiming that ‘A lot of people claim to be on the cutting edge. Pizzolo actually is.’
I have to take issue with that claim. If cutting edge means indecipherable rubbish that looks cool on the surface but has no real depth, then maybe I just need to adjust my definition of cutting edge. If I hadn’t read the marketing blurb for this title I would have no idea what was going on for the entire collection. The points where some exposition and world building would be really helpful are glossed over entirely while exposition dumps follow in places that would have been perfect for ‘show don’t tell’ (yes, I know all writing should be this, but economies must be made sometimes…).
What if “The Smoking Man” from X-Files was a real person, and his daughter found out what he did for a living? The daughter of an assassinated globalist kingpin breaks out of an internment camp and leads her fellow escaped prisoners in a battle against an elitist conspiracy of shadow governments, megabanks, and military juntas in this edgy and subversive thriller that channels Fight Club by way of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Pizzolo is clearly a guy with great ideas. This premise looks great on principle and ticks all the gritty boxes required to piss off the conservatives and make comic nerds snigger to themselves. So what the hell happened? It’s not innovative, particularly original, or as cutting as it should be. Where’s the political incorrectness? For a comic that claims to ‘fearlessly assaults politics-as-usual’, I didn’t find it made any particularly probing questions about the world. Nothing everyone isn’t already talking about at least. There really was nothing fresh about this at all.
Despite the obvious thematic preoccupation of the comic, Pizzolo feels the need to talk down to his readers. Oh, you still don’t get that this is a ‘Damn the man’ type situation? So he has his protagonist (can you call her that when she has zero characterisation other than ‘me fight good, me hate government’ in the entire piece?!) spell it out for you – she’s all about breaking the grid.
There’s a lot of teasing backstory – who did Cesar kill and why, for instance. While this has the potential to intriguing it is wasted by not grounding it with more tangible story aspects. The setting is questionable, supposedly an abandoned area that is both self-sustaining and completely safe from the outside world… hmmm, explain to me how that works (oh wait, no, you don’t explain anything!). The set-up also makes very little sense – sure, perhaps we will learn more as the series continues but you need to give me enough to make me want more.
For Pizzolo, cool ideas, strong themes, and a love of nostalgic grunge seem to be his only focus. Characters are almost entirely forgotten about. Eh, characters, who needs ’em?! They’re given names, they do stuff, isn’t that enough? I really am far too demanding as a reader that I insist on characters having a defined personality, motivations, and this little thing called growth. Forgive me for my tactlessness, but a comic that relies on theme and art alone is not worth a damn. Like other mediums, comics are all about telling stories. And what do stories need? Action, setting, and CHARACTERS!
Verdict: Only good if you’re looking for all style and no substance. You want to actually read something gritty and grungy? Go back to Transmetropolitan.
Young Terrorists publishes September 1st.