by Lauren Fernandes. Imagine a pristine world. Picture a city crested in tall, glossy buildings with blankets of trim greenery, arranged like little soldiers along pathways and in parks, dwarfed by the skyscrapers they accent. It is a world with no hunger, no filth, no disease. Absent are poverty and need; in their place are only the gifts of education, fulfillment, and actualization.

Yet somehow, as with most sparkly things that appear on late night infomercials, there is something about it that must be too good to be true. Something that makes you just a tad too uncomfortable to buy what they’re selling. Maybe it’s all those flying cars in the sky… they look like flies.

Better not get too close.

This is the first picture artist Piotr Kowalski and writer Zack Kaplan weave together for us in Join The Future, AfterShock Comics’ new sci-fi/western series. This glowing cityscape is populated by a cast of Stepford-esque characters, off-putting enough to give just the right amount of hesitancy to the reader before the story introduces our protagonist: Clementine Libbey (or just Clem) is a brooding, asthmatic teenage girl living in the Midwest, her and her family occupying one of the few small towns left in the United States.

Thus is the duality of Join the Future. Clem’s town is the furthest thing possible from these megacities, which are actively recruiting new citizens from every independent town and village found beyond their borders.

Instead of a culture obsessed with technology, Clem’s family (and the local townsfolk) operate in the most old fashioned and completely independent ways possible. They hunt, they work for their food, they build things with their own two hands. It is a lifestyle rooted in connectivity amongst the community, interdependence among family members, and a strong will stacked with self reliance. Kaplan presents us with these different societies, well thought-out and in stark contrast even from a distance. When the Future society swiftly pushes the old ways out of existence with a brutality one would hope doesn’t exist in a Utopia, the recurring question of the series arises: What is the cost?

When looking at any improvements to our society, or anything we wish to preserve in our society, there will always be a cost of some sort. We often pay these costs through the destruction of the environment, robbing Peter to pay Paul, or through general human suffering. Kaplan gets your wheels turning in regard to these costs, and the unexpected ways society may pay them. The Future megacities terraform the locations of the old towns they absorb, leaving behind lush, developed forests—complete ecosystems to take the place of the clear-cut areas of the towns. This is that duality: reforestation is good, right? The restoration of natural habitats is a good thing, right? Every environmental activism group across the world would likely applaud these choices.

But Kaplan forces us to examine what happens when these moves are forced onto society instead of choices made by society. The megacities are essentially performing a futuristic form of colonization on these rural towns. The terraforming only happens as the result of bloody attacks, vividly rendered by Kowalski and colorist Brad Simpson, which end in the complete cultural assimilation of the townspeople. Watching the people in these rural communities evacuate when their lifestyle is no longer sustainable, forced to conform with the Utopian megacities by abandoning their values of independence and self reliance, I land in a disappointed place. The colonizing society is, on the surface, finally doing the right thing. They’re healing the land and the people they recruit are provided every benefit and luxury imaginable. But it comes at the deep cost of their identities.

Kaplan, Kowalski, Simpson and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou come together to deliver an intensely imagined landscape. The world of Join the Future is immersive, with developed communities that feel familiar in their classic Western roots. Meanwhile, Kowalski & Simpson’s combined rendition of the futuristic megacities are perfect enough to make you uncomfortable. The art team for this series is clearly in sync, and their vision of this world is realized with ambition and scope.

Kaplan introduces some interesting characters, namely protagonist Clem, the evil megacity agent who destroys her home, and a mysterious trader. The first two issues are not enough to truly explore any of these characters, let alone Clem. In fact, I feel like I barely got a taste of who she is. Apart from the general awareness that there will be some sort of “coming of age” element to her revenge arc (which isn’t unique in itself) it’s tough to see exactly where Kaplan will take Clem to make her exceptional. She straddles the views her father instilled in her along with her own common adolescent curiosities. I do see the potential for her character, the room for growth, the interesting and inspiring paths she may take as she walks into the sunset, guns blazing. Perhaps in the issues to come.

Join the Future doesn’t shine for its amazingly deep characters. It shines for its world development, for its fascinating concept of what the future of colonization might look like, what route environmentalism may take, and for casting a light on which values in a humble, technologically empty society are worth saving.

It’s the end of April in 2020. We’re drawing to a close our first whole month of a national lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The sudden loss of the luxuries most people are accustomed to has sparked a new wave of self-reliant behaviors across the country. People are cutting their own hair, sewing, growing their own food in modern day Victory Gardens, even cooking. I have to wonder if we are doomed to one of the societies featured in Join the Future or the other, either a hyper-technologically-dependent one or one that completely shuns the new. Lately, however, I am hopeful we may find balance.

Maybe that’s what Clem’s ultimate destination is—a world of balance.

AfterShock Comics / $3.99 each

Written by Zack Kaplan.

Art by Piotr Kowalski.

Colors by Brad Simpson.

Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.

7 out of 10

‘Join the Future’ #1 is available now. Issue #2 is currently scheduled for a June 17 release. You can preorder it now. (Diamond Code: FEB201407)

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Check out our previews of ‘Join the Future’ #1 & #2, courtesy of AfterShock Comics!

Issue #1:

Issue #2: