The juxtaposition of science fiction, brutal sport, and social media isn’t new to comics. It isn’t even new to Image Comics; just take a look at Motor Crush. Yet there’s still no book that combines those elements quite like VS. It’s a comic that cranks its core conceits, violence and black humor, right up to 11 and ensures no reader will be able to ignore its twisted beginning.
VS #1 introduces readers to a future Earth in which war is fought for entertainment. There are commercial breaks, sponsors, and commentators, all of them recognizable beyond an updated set of designs by Tom Muller. The technology of war has also been redesigned by artist Esad Ribić, complete with extra limbs, laser cannons, and jetpacks. Yet war hasn’t changed at all beneath the surface. It’s still cruel, ugly, and ultimately deadly. For all of the affectations of sport and celebrity integrated into this scenario, the action itself is all about murder on a battlefield. It’s something that Flynn, the series protagonist and probable first-round draft pick on this bizarre Earth, excels at.
The first issue emphasizes the act of war above all else. There’s time spent building the world around it, but the draw of the series rests in its exploration of violence and Ribić’s depiction of that violence. The artist seemingly disappeared from interior work following Secret Wars, and the opening battle of VS quickly justifies that long hiatus. Crumbling buildings, advanced battle tech, and two varied groups of veterans fill the pages with an intense firefight that resonates like an absurd take on Black Hawk Down. People die quickly and unexpectedly, and there’s very little time to react to each new stage of action. It’s difficult to capture the frenzied nature of combat as well as film, but Ribić accomplishes just that.
Dialogue rolls out rat-a-tat like the gunfire. When the action is going, it’s all orders and exclamations. The word balloons don’t slow the building intensity at all, which makes the first extended sequence land perfectly. For as great as the action is, the scenes outside of the battlefield deflate the experience and not in the ways one might expect. Ribić intense attention to detail in battle scenes between a handful of soldiers does not lend itself well to wide shots and urban environments. Crowds feel like large bus stop gatherings. Highways and hospitals feel abandoned. There’s an emptiness to areas that ought to be populated and the result is a colder world without the intended thematic connection.
The focus of VS exists in war though. Flynn’s thoughts cannot leave the battlefield, and the elements of fame and media are distractions. They serve to frame and contextualize the wild action with the present, offerings initial thoughts on dehumanization and the unconsidered embrace of soldiering, but they are not part of Flynn’s world. Violence seems to have removed him from what might have once been home resulting in friction and dark humor whenever the two connect. The result is a comic that contains familiar elements, but offers an entirely fresh take on it all. In the midst of battle this bloody future becomes something irresistible.
Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Esad Ribić
Colors by Nic Klein