September 1, 2015

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Young Terrorists #1


Young Terrorists #1
Written by Matt Pizzolo
Illustrated by Amancay Nahuelpan
Colored by Jean-Paul Csuka
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Black Mask Studios

Over the past few months I've had a chance to look at a few books from Black Mask Studios (see my reviews of Space RidersWe Can Never Go Home, and The Disciples) and been impressed with not only the quality of these diverse books, but the sense that they're there not just to tell a story but to also push boundaries, and make the reader a little uncomfortable.  That trend continues (and gets turned up to 11) with the release of Young Terrorists, the new Black Mask book written by Matt Pizzolo (one of the founders of Black Mask, and creator of Godkiller), with art from Amancay Nahuelpan, colors from Jean-Paul Csuka, and letters by Jim Campbell.  Young Terrorists is a book that grabs you and punches you in the face; it's engaging, dense, and gonzo, and it won't be ignored. This first issue is oversized (80 pages) and tells a highly intriguing story, while setting up a larger  (and crazy) world.

Young Terrorists is primarily the story of Sera Solomon, whose father is the head of one of three Illuminati-type organizations which control various interests in our country and around the world. She's in the process of interviewing for colleges, but instead ends up spending several years in a secret detention facility, eventually escapes and becomes a combination of a lethal Ronda Rousey meets Che Guevara meets Kristof (from The Truman Show) meets Tyler Durden (and if you like Fight Club this story has a similar punk-rock, anarchist appeal). It's also the story of a young man who is not named Cesar (but whom we'll call Cesar) but who experiences one harrowing situation after another, and somehow ends up in a secret facility after having been naked, afraid and alone, and also having blown up at McDonald's. This is a crazy world of conspiracies, people using secret sex videos as a method of mind control, and brutal combat through media as another form of influence and control.


In my assessment, the chief function of the first issue of an ongoing comic book is to get you to want to read the second issue. If that's the test, I think Young Terrorists succeeds with bloody, vivid, flying colors. This is a world of underground fight clubs, mushroom clones making sex videos (yes, I just wrote that), and it's a world where all your worst fears about the powerful elite are completely true. The Illuminati are real, and there are several distinct factions of them. There's even a handy info-graphic to let you know what companies and presidents are (or have been) under the control of which secret cabal. All of this is punctuated by periodic broadcasts from the Glenn Beck-type figure who's here to warn us all that were just pawns to these secret groups, all the while trying to sell us gold and guns to survive the coming breakdown of society. 

It's an ugly world, but that ugliness and inequality is beautifully and effectively captured by the art team. I wasn't familiar with either Nahuelpan or Csuka but both are absolutely on my radar now as the work here is strong and striking in the literal and figurative sense. This isn't a book for kids, as it doesn't shy away from fairly graphic sex and brutal violence. But those elements feel purposeful, rather than gratuitous. Nahuelpan has a vivid, realistic line and gives each character in the story a lot of individuality and personality. The colors from Csuka are also not what you expect in a dark, conspiracy-laden comic that spends lots of time in prisons and secret hideouts and pretty depressing places. As in the below page depicting a prison fight sequence, the book has a sometimes jarringly bright, sylized color quality that creates an incongruity with the brutality being depicted, and confounds expectations (one of my favorite things for art to do). Jim Campbell also provides fun lettering through the series, such as in the below pages depicting text message interactions, which I think is still hard to do realistically but Campbell does here quite effectively.  The book overall has a stylish, cinematic design sense.


This is a fully loaded first issue, and because it's got an extended page count (almost to the point of a graphic novel), the art team is able to take their time in telling the story.  The issues doesn't feel stretched out; we're given a real chance to inhabit the world in which these characters live. For example, when we meet the character of Cesar, he's on the road, homeless and penniless. The pacing used by the art team really slows down the flow of time, as the story follows his progression from a truck to a truck stop to getting beaten up by an irate trucker (whose clothes Cesar tried to steal) to blowing up a McDonald's and eventually when his path intersects with Sera. It's basically one night, and Nahuelpan's deliberate pacing helps us to feel the passage of time, and just how awful of a night this is for Cesar.


By the time they meet, this issue has shown both Sera and Cesar put through so much.  Sera undergoes a radical (in many meanings of the word) transformation from affluent teenager to brutal woman and leader of a revolutionary group. She uses her own skill and savagery, mixed with her beauty, in order to accomplish her goals. She's placed in horrific circumstances but she prospers and uses the tools of her enemies to her advantage. The character design perfectly illustrates this transformation, as when she's first introduced in the story, she's an attractive teenager in a school uniform, and she transforms into a fearsome presence. Her brutality and physicality show that while she's clearly been through a lot, she's a figure of strength and agency. It also feels, from Pizzolo's scripting, like she's someone with a lot going on under the surface, and a character worth following.


In addition to providing a satisfying arc for the two main characters, the issue also raises plenty of mysteries. Who killed Sera Solomon's father and had her locked up in a secret detention facility? More significantly, what are Sera and her group building? They've staked out their own community, but what are they working towards?  There's an interesting point being made in Sera's underground fighting and sex videos. They're spreading a message to counteract the manipulation by the forces in power, but Sera's own group is itself using psychological manipulation and hypnotic suggestion. It's an interesting twist (and reminder) that those that are oppressed must be sometimes willing to engage in the same sorts of tactics as their oppressors, and it adds a degree of moral grayness and complexity that makes the characters potentially more interesting. 

Thus far, it's clear that Young Terrorists is a creative middle-finger at the status quo and the injustice and inequality in our society. It's also a promising debut with humor and wit along with a healthy helping of rage, and I'm very curious to see where that rage is going.  Much like Sera, my sense is that Pizzolo has a vision for what he's doing.  For a highly charged, subversive, fun read about those fighting back against the sinister forces that control us, I'd strongly recommend Young Terrorists.