After nearly two years of waiting, the final issues of Crowded—presented here in trade format as Crowded, Vol. 3—have finally arrived and with five "issues" to traverse to the end of this series' wild ride I am going to simply cut to the chase. Crowded, from the very first issue, has been one of the best non-superhero comics I've ever read. It's full of razor-sharp satire, biting wit, indelible characters, nearly nonstop action and is an absolute hoot even when taking on some of the grimmer aspects of human nature and our modern, technology-obsessed society. The last of Crowded maintains this very high quality of work both in words and visuals leaving the reader with a conclusion that, while not perfect, is immensely satisfying both in terms of story investment and in message.
Last we saw of Charlie and Vita, their relationship had gone from professional to personal, they'd escaped a cult, and then left readers with a bit of a cliffhanger. Charlie fired Vita as her DEFENDer and hired a new one who turned out to be the mysterious and dangerously lethal woman who has been following them this whole time, Circe. The story picks up with Vita on the trail of Charlie and Circe while they're all being tailed by people trying to get to Charlie to collect on her Reapr. Admittedly, it feels like there are a few things missing as we jump back into the story. Vita is connecting with her ex and Charlie and Circe are apparently on their way to Washington D.C. to deal with the people responsible for the contract out on Charlie's life; there is a lot going on in the early part of this volume that doesn't necessarily fill in those gaps, but does start to shed some light on Charlie, Circe, and Vita as people. We learn Circe's real motivations, further learn about how complex—even if only slightly—Charlie actually is and come to understand just how vulnerable Vita is despite her very strong exterior.
It's this sort of character work that makes Crowded such an incredible series and this volume in particular so fantastic. A lot has been said about Crowded being a "queer" comic, but there is so much more to Crowded than that and it is in the fully formed messes that each of the main characters in this series are presented as and allowed to be that makes this comic transcend the niche. While relationships, intimate and otherwise, are a major factor in these final "issues," the real focus is on human longing: to be loved, to matter, to live a life more real. Just take all that philosophical bit and hurl it headlong into something that feels like a cross between a heist and a really jacked up Thelma and Louise-esque escape.
However, for all of the really stunning and still fun character work readers get, where these last "issues" begin to falter ever so slightly is in the larger story. It's finally revealed who put the Reapr on Charlie and while that reveal isn't exactly surprising, the way the story tries to use it to springboard into why they are going after big corporate and, ultimately, the government just doesn't quite gel. While readers win up with a really bold and inspiring moment where the people take on the man, as it were, it also feels anticlimactic. Certainly, this could be deliberate—one could make the case that in our society even when you expose monsters nothing really changes—but it still just feels like so much was left on the table. How it all wraps up also feels a little fantastic with the ultimate fates of our main characters—especially Charlie—feeling just a little cartoonish. It's not bad but given the high level of wit that this series has displayed before it just feels out of place.
What does work perfectly from cover to cover? For starters, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt's art along with Triona Farrell and Diana Sousa's colors never miss. Every page, every panel is absolute perfection not only in how it looks for the story, but how it works seamlessly with the story. Tucked within that artwork is another thing that is absolute perfection: the visual jokes and satire. Pay attention to signs, to in-universe advertisements. They are brilliant and hilarious and haunting all in one fell swoop and they're a treat to discover.
Nearly two years after the last issue of Crowded, these final pages really do live up to the high standard the series established for itself. Christopher Sebela, Stein, Brandt, and truly everyone involved have not only made a fantastic series, but they managed a solid wrap up. Save for just a few wobbles in terms of the "grand scheme" of it all, Crowded Vol. 3 is a brilliant, funny, and worthy conclusion to a comic that has been both eye-opening and one hell of a ride.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Published by Image Comics
On February 16, 2022
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt
Colors by Triona Farrell and Diana Sousa
Letters by Cardinal Rae