THIS REVIEW OF ‘FRIENDO’ #5 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Capitalism shifting from uneasy symbiote of profit-making products to smiling, gluttonous parasite devouring bank accounts. Civilization sinking beneath Ozymandian sands even while brilliant minds innovate, carrying the death rattle quadrophonic, live via satellite, to masses incapable of discerning tragedy from entertainment. Pursuit of pop culture childhood icons turning into obsession. Rebranding the Golden Rule for Haves as, “Squeeze, Don’t Pull”. The qualifying scale of ‘Purchase Intent’ as basis for relationships.
These aren’t the only things making Friendo one of the best comic book series of the year. You also get President Gein, the Bernays Act, and a hitman sporting bunny ears. Within those nihilistic, humor black-as-sin boundaries, writer Alex Paknadel holds up a reflection of our needful, selfishly sotted selves. That view encompasses the cultural trends erupting around us. Then he switches to an electron microscope, piercing every decomposing layer. Underlying is an ongoing disclaimer: ‘Current life choice paths may result in adverse side effects displayed here. Find alternative regimen to avoid such near-future travesties.’
Issue #5 concludes the series. But you’re excused from any traditional Wrap Party and will likely indulge in a quiet period to process what Paknadel has wrought. It deserves that. Then you’ll be going back to read all five issues in a sitting, to wrap this sci-fi prognosis of sociological ills around your mind.
Leopold Joof and his AR search engine Jerry have had quite the journey. In issue #5 it becomes the last chance to find the final resting place of the recalled Action Joe figures Leo coveted as a child. Along the way, scores get deserved evenings and the impact of the Friendo app on the consumer landscape is weighed. It’s a satisfying finale but incorporates its own discomforting revelations regarding the legacy our civilization leaves behind. Even the bright childhood playthings we cherish turn poisonous, whether it’s to our own self-images projected onto an action figure, or to the environment. The narrative expands its perspective regarding the cults of celebrity and consumerism we’ve spawned. And if reality and VR become entwined? That’s what happens when your only friend is a tailored Artificial Reality avatar. Especially when his Ethical Protocol program is on the fritz.
Paknadel’s tone, daring you to gaze into a very-near future Purgatory, never wavers. He doesn’t blink at how bad it is, and how much worse it may become. He dares you to take in his vision wide-eyed and screaming. He’s also packaged for modern audiences the spirit of a 1972 documentary narrated by Orson Welles called Future Shock. It examined the phenomena of humankind coping with constant introduction and upgrades to new technology, the resulting societal changes, and how they impacted the human quests for pleasure, fulfillment, ethics, and meaning.
Not since discovering The Prisoner TV series as a 6-year-old naïf has a testament regarding worldly powers-that-be and the individuals at their mercy made such an impression. That Paknadel accomplishes a similar result, after life’s bountiful jading over half a century has left me less pliant, is impressive.
Also impressive is Martin Simmonds. Since the first issue, he’s successfully transcribed both the reality and VR-enhanced portions of Paknadel’s narrative. It had to be a close collaboration occupying many conversations, because it results in two wildly creative individuals in simpatico rivaling Leo and Jerry. Simmonds handles the seediness of L.A. nightlife as adeptly as the sterile and plastic interiors of corporate offices and Cornutopia box stores. When neo-technological devices come into play, Simmonds bequeaths them dazzle and functionality.
Colorist Dee Cunniffe’s work in previous issues has been canvases of beautiful contrast. There’s less opportunity for that here, but Cunniffe adapts and it fits the mood of the conclusion. Taylor Esposito maintains the scene-setting font style from previous issues, and his choices are cutting-edge enough to garner that tricky illusion of setting: Not today, but very soon. His work on the Action Joe marketing style is a shining moment. He makes ad copy patter, riddled with anything but selling points, humorous and horrific in its huckster hubris.
‘Joofing’ deserves to become a new verb. Not just because it’s fun to say, but because, with the last installment of Friendo, Leo Joof is our generation’s Howard Beale. He’s also on the same page as Holden Caulfield, an embodiment of both laudable and blameworthy traits often attributed to him. (Paknadel slipped references to both characters in the series, and it works.) Joofing: Calling out the foibles and shortcomings of how unfair the world is, and worse, how irritating. Being the only one brave or foolhardy enough to break from the herd and holding us accountable for our complicity in the sad state. This book gives literate, pleading voice to that sentiment before we’ve reached that unattractive destination.
Vault Comics / $3.99
Written by Alex Paknadel.
Art by Martin Simmonds.
Colors by Dee Cunniffe.
Letters by Taylor Esposito.
10 out of 10
Check out Kim McLean’s variant cover to ‘Friendo’ #5, courtesy of Vault Comics!