September 2, 2015

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SPX Spotlight 2015: Nobrow Press's New Mini: Cyber Realm by Wren McDonald

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.


Cyber Realm
Written and Illustrated by Wren McDonald
Published by Nobrow Press

Nobrow’s 17X23 series is a tasty concept -- quick one-off 24 page stories priced expediently at 5 bucks a pop, kindly printed in full color, giving visibility to new and rising illustrators and storytellers. If the story works, all the better reason to look further into the artist's’ body of work. If it doesn’t, you didn’t waste too much time or energy on it! Ah, the simple, economical beauty of the comic book! Happily, Cyber Realm is one of the ones that sticks! As the cover clearly illustrates, it’s the story of one semi-robotic man, Nicholas, fighting his way through a dystopian future to avenge the brutal death of his young son. In league with (and partially rebuilt by) clunky, retro robots, he sets out to kill The Master, the man who has murdered his child without remorse, and at the behest of the robots, to destroy his evil empire. As the story unfolds, we get a better sense of the players -- in particular the Master’s ridiculous, nerdy methods of world domination, and just how much control he has. Though I have a deep love for a good dystopia, I’m not a particular connoisseur of the world domination by robot/technological tyranny genre so my comparisons may be less than apt here -- I got a vague Blade Runner feeling from this -- questioning what’s really real and what is simply of the cyberrealm (insert wiggly lines and eerie oooohs here). Others have compared it to the fantastical, fast-paced fury of Mad Max, but it seems like the whole robots/muscle man/twerpy villain are a little too classic sci-fiction to compare to that anarchic favorite. Cyber Realm also owes something to the world of video games -- feeling like every move is a bit prescribed and methodical, the plot is on a speedy, blindered course to resolution, the violence is gleeful, almost bubbly, the ending satisfying. But it’s also very much a send up of this action-packed genre, with both Nicholas and The Master depicted as buffoonish and blustering on every possible occasion. Further adding to this feeling of parody is Wren McDonald’s happy, bubbly, cartoonish orgy of violence, with mountains of spare mechanical parts along its edges, characters with grimaces, silly costumes, and little poofs of expression around their heads. As someone who knows little of video games or technological world domination, I enjoyed this tremendously, even if I didn’t get all the jokes or connect in any real way to the deeper questions it might have raised about the values and vices of the gamer community. Ultimately, Cyber Realm is a light-hearted tale of dystopian violence, a romp with robots, a cartoony comic in the best sense. And at 24 pages, it fills every page with fun, but none of it feels superfluous or overstuffed. Wren McDonald imagines a broken world richly, tells her story expediently, and draws hilarious heroes and antiheroes alike. As the 17X23 series has intended, Cyber Realm makes me look forward to reading more of her work, and more from the series as well.

Cyber Realm will be available at the Nobrow Press table at SPX. Can't get to SPX because of the dystopia you find yourself in? You can purchase a copy here.