By Will Holden
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Tyler Boss
Lettering: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Colouring Assistant: Clare DeZutti
Publisher: Image Comics
You may have heard us talk about What’s The Furthest Place From Here? in our November Round-Up, where it got overall good reviews by the crew, but I for one really loved the first issue and so, I have returned to review the second. This issue is another beast of a double issue so there is a lot to get through.
WTFPFH is set in a mysterious post-apocalypse, inhabited entirely by children and teenagers. The reason for this is that once anyone reaches “adulthood” they must leave their gang and go to “The City”. The reader follows the story of The Academy, a gang of these youths, as they seek out their missing member, Sid. Unbeknownst to the gang, Sid appears to be pregnant, the group’s lack of understanding of this shows the basic knowledge that has been lost in whatever collapse has led to this world.
The mystery is further compounded by the presence of the Strangers, figures that appear to be adults but dressed entirely in black except for a sack over their heads. These Strangers have the freedom of this world and seem to be able to come and go in the night but say nothing at all and have a very ethereal quality. The Strangers appear benevolent as the kids refer to the fact that their food and accommodation are provided by the Strangers but they are also keeping these kids in the dark regarding the state of the world.
At the end of issue #1, Sid has wandered away from her family-gang and the kids have pushed into territory owned by another family-gang in search of her. This results in a spate of violence and the emergence of a new gang of kids who act as a sort of police service, but who has made these laws or has given these kids the authority to dispense it, is still unknown. Following these events, the family of kids return home to find it completely ablaze, again, by whom or why is not revealed. Without a home the chances of survival in this world become perilously slim so the kids must set out again, this time in pursuit of somewhere to stay. A new family member, reluctantly added to the teen’s roster from the bank dwelling pig-faced gang, says that he knows where the fabled Market is, a potentially fictional place where a kid can trade anything for anything. The market proves to be real but somewhat less than it was touted to be, however this lead eventually gets the Academy to a new, supposedly empty house which has been approved by The Strangers. This seems too good to be true, and in the next issue I am sure we’ll find out why.
The momentum of the story is carried by the kids exploring the world they call home and their pursuit of Sid, but through this story structure the world is slowly revealed to us in ways that feel natural. There are no hard walls of exposition where, as you read it, you know the comic has to tell you something important before moving on to the next story beat. Instead the details are fed, slowly but steadily through the actions of the characters. The script and voicing of the characters does what many a comic has failed to do: sound like believable teenagers. Even in this upside-down world of unknown disaster and destroyed cities, the kids still read like kids. The fact that teens all ritualistically pick a single vinyl record which represents and identifies them, speaks to the music-based tribalism that I experienced as a spotty faced teen. Despite being set in an environment very different to the one I live in, these world-building choices immediately grounded these characters and quickly endeared them to me. I will occasionally find that a comic is essentially just a process of building tension and intrigue until there is the big payoff. That is not a criticism, when the punchline is good enough, I’m all for this format of storytelling, however What’s The Furthest Place From Here? gets to have its cake and eat it, as the very act of reading this book is enjoyable. Not only is there a mystery to unwind, the moment to moment beats are just good ol’ fashioned fun as well.
To complement the great storytelling is the great art, provided Tyler Boss. The character design of each of the children, the other gangs and their collective styles are all superb and gives each different cluster of kids a unique flavour. It is interesting that most of the other gangs, especially those aligned with pre-apocalypse establishments such as banks or police, have a unified design style. Taking the banker kids as an example, they all wear suits and paper pig masks. Opposed to this, all of the kids in The Academy all dress and look differently to each other but all could fall into a broadly punk/grunge aesthetic. This could be a comment about the free spiritedness of punk and adolescents versus the uptight conformity of adulthood and commerce. If this is the case, it very much appeals to my world view. One of my very favourite aspects of the art are the smiley-face-style icons that each of the main characters get, they have a sort of South Park simplicity in design. They are initially used in the re-cap page at the start of each issue, to help the reader remember all of the players and gives an immediate visual clue to who is who. But I really liked when these icons come back at the edge of untethered world balloons, meaning the reader is never confused as to who is talking. It is both practically very handy but also adds another level of charm to the visuals.
While we are yet to have the full picture spelled out for us, this issue still keeps the momentum going and moves the story along in a very enjoyable read. At this stage I am completely on board to see where this goes.
Rating: Highly Recommended