Cover to ‘Friendo’ #1. Art by Martin Simmonds/Vault Comics

by Clyde Hall. The near-future tone of several recent science fiction themes in comics has me wondering: Was Black Mirror a harbinger of things soon to come, or did it merely popularize a trend already begun? Technology gone awry, making misery and mayhem in the far-flung future of next Tuesday. It’s so familiar and such a slight tweak on what already exists that it’s likely already part of R&D somewhere in the world. We’ve all been made to suffer having our lives improved by tech advancements promising better, simpler, faster but delivering unreliable, glitched, and complicated. At least until the 2.0 version works out the bugs. We can identify when cutting-edge translates to a slice across our hamstrings.

Friendo #1 presents the same sort of around-the-next-curve programming and hardware upgrades, coupled with society’s changing ethical standards, to create a not-so blissful tomorrow. It’s The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits made possible by intellectual property grants from iPhone, Microsoft, and Cisco. Writer Alex Paknadel’s exposition of what allowed those elements to descend to the next level is brilliance in brevity, realized by artist Martin Simmonds in a single panel.

The result is a global commerce where staging fatal traffic accidents to grab media attention while inserting a promo for the next summer blockbuster is a marketing standard. Where contestants on a Jackass-style extreme stunt show vie for basic human needs plus fifteen minutes of fame they can manipulate into twenty, backed with additional perks. It’s the ragged edge of this world our protagonist Leopold Joop clings to, typically barnacling on by his virtual fingernails and at the whim of online Fate.

He has a few things going his way, though, including a supportive paramour in Rachael who’s surfing a sweeter and more lucrative barrel wave of celebrity. She gifts Leo a set of Glaze spectacles, state-of-the-art portal to a personalized VR search engine and marketing app represented by an avatar guide named Jerry.

Jerry is in Leo’s head from the start, an accessible wingman always trying to sell him something while simultaneously offering helpful applications. Jerry’s also eerie on several levels. There’s a mocking AI smugness beneath his supportive programming façade. Mostly, he reminds you of that college buddy who covertly instigates fights between two of your other friends, then sits back to watch the fun. Or films it for YouTube. The promotional blurbs for Friendo say that Jerry’s glitched, and by the issue’s end it’s fairly obvious that Leo’s VR travel agent is sending him on one bloody getaway, with travel tips on where to buy the perfect aperitif to compliment the upcoming main course of mayhem.

The sense of humor in the inaugural issue is dead-of-night black, the sort which elicits a nervous, “Heh,” as monosyllabic affirmation of just how close to home Paknadel’s observations hit. He’s formulated an effective opening act with spotlights of brilliance, a necessity with so many other fine comics harvesting the same general sci-fi field right now. Simmonds is well-chosen for his ability to bring a certain music video artifice to the main characters and a realistic natural world that sometimes collides with the plasticky, unnatural world that’s the foundations of their existence. He’s also the artist you want guiding you behind the Glaze glasses to experience Leo’s perspective fully.

Dee Cunniffe on colors also adds his distinctive, effective transition to the hues that establish the trinity of settings, from the San Gabriel earth tones to the contrived, not-quite-true tint of Hollyvoid, to the charade simulation and shades of the virtual world. Taylor Esposito’s lettering style scored a bit timid here at first, but it contrasts very well. His peoplespeak verbal depiction of real life is less exciting than the subtly bolder presentations reserved for forays into adverts, celebrity drone readouts, and the Friendo program, mirroring the Facebook and Twitter razzmatazz we put forth in camouflaging what we perceive as our true, dishwater existences.

Friendo has a thoroughbred in the race when it comes to contemporary speculative fiction of the ‘Shortly Realized Unless Steps Are Taken’ futurist category. What sets it apart from other similar smart books is the spirit with which it aims both barrels at our world of reality programming and manufactured media to pose the question, “Have we truly come to this?” Then having the hubris to answer by offering an online poll festooned with pop-up ads and clickbait.

Vault Comics/$3.99

Written by Alex Paknadel.

Art by Martin Simmonds.

Colors by Dee Cunniffe.

Letters by Taylor Esposito.

8 out of 10


Check out this eleven-page preview of ‘Friendo’ #1, courtesy of Vault Comics!