Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Thumbs’ #1, out June 5 from Image Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘THUMBS’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Brendan Hodgdon. While many people define cyberpunk by the flying cars, the holograms, or the techno-gothic architecture, the real unifying element of the genre is desperation. From Blade Runner to Akira to Neuromancer and beyond, cyberpunk observes societies at wit’s end, where the world is on its last nerve and technology and corporations have become a smothering presence in daily life. In that regard, one can’t deny that 2019 is exactly the cyberpunk dystopia that those aforementioned genre classics predicted, albeit without the flashy window dressing. And it is into this existential void that Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman shout with Thumbs, their new series that demands your attention and refuses to relinquish it.
Much like our real world, the world of Thumbs forgoes many of the traditional aesthetics of cyberpunk. This is a world of trailer parks, woods and suburbia, where often the only sci-fi elements are the benign-looking hologram named MOM™ and a generic VR-based video game. But it’s also a world where the quiet, creeping omnipotence of the corporation that created them looms over all. It is through this world that we are introduced to the title character, a young man who acquired the nickname “Thumbs” thanks to his proficiency as a gamer. And through a first issue that intercuts Thumbs’ childhood and young adulthood, we quickly get a full picture of this future and its depressing parallels to our present.
What Lewis and Sherman tap into with Thumbs as a character—which, in turn, reveals so much about his world—is the tangible sense of loneliness and despair, the raw nerve of sadness that only the ministrations of a technogogue and his media platform can soothe. We see Thumbs and his sister being raised by the aforementioned MOM™ app while their parents worked. We see Thumbs gain a sense of accomplishment and belonging through his gaming progress. We see every north star in this boy’s life stem from one man’s Silicon Valley brand, and when you see Thumbs as an adult fighting a guerrilla war on his distant benefactor’s behalf, it almost makes sense.
In their chronicling of Thumbs’ life, the creators confront a society that has failed its implicit purpose. They acknowledge that families are disintegrating from the very pressure of trying to hold themselves together under the demands of modern life, and that those remaining are left vulnerable to exploitation. And ironically, that exploitation comes at the hands of the same entities that birthed the circumstances that left those people vulnerable in the first place. The reality of Thumbs’ world is a cycle of self-destruction and self-delusion, one that leaves the young and impressionable willing to serve whatever master that will have them.
The surreal, existential unease of Thumbs owes a lot to Sherman’s art, which reaches a new level of brilliance here. He still maintains a scratchy, raw, Frank Miller-esque style, but it feels much more earnest and punk than Miller’s work. Sherman crafts a world that feels run-down, dingy and bleak. The way he can blend the overwhelming, oppressive tone into fast-paced moments is impressive; his work is packed with kineticism and momentum, but it’s also framed with a grand sense of foreboding and claustrophobia.
Then there’s the color, or the lack of it, though when the only color component in the art is the same magenta shade as provided by the MOM™ hologram, it doesn’t seem accidental. Rather, it speaks to Thumbs’ sense of technology, and how it serves as the guiding light of his world. Sherman’s rough-and-tumble energy is further supported by his lettering, which has a visceral quality and a careful sense of scale and framing; dialogue and captions are often dwarfed in-panel, highlighting the isolating nature of the world.
With Thumbs, Lewis & Sherman reclaim the heartbreaking core of cyberpunk with penetrating precision. As we cope with a world where tech giants implicitly harbor fascism and people stan for corporate brands, it’s important to both acknowledge the dangers of those trends and interrogate what flaws in our social order led to them. Thumbs does that, and keeps the reader thinking about it long past this debut’s last haunting panel.
Image Comics / $4.99
Written by Sean Lewis.
Illustrated by Hayden Sherman.
9.5 out of 10
‘Thumbs’ #1 hits stores June 5. You can pre-order it now; Final Order Cut-off is May 13. (Diamond Code: APR190011)
You can read the DoomRocket interview with Sean Lewis here.
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Thumbs’ #1, courtesy of Image Comics!