Disaster Inc., the latest original series from AfterShock Comics, arrives on the comics scene in a relevant time. The first issue of the series, arriving at physical stores this week, lets its complicated concept carry a lot of weight, while also laying the groundwork for a potentially entertaining ensemble series. Equal parts ethereal, sci-fi tale and realistic character study, Disaster Inc. positions itself as a timely debut that's often intriguing, sometimes middling, and leaves plenty to be explored.
As an essay the end of the issue explains, Disaster Inc. is inspired by the very real Tohoku earthquake, regarded to be the worst in Japan's history. The 2011 earthquake set off a massive tsunami, which culminated in three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. In the years since, the land affected by the meltdown was transformed into an "Exclusion Zone," effectively ending most human contact with the area. In Disaster Inc., that eponymous company, led by the charismatic Paolo and his assistant Abby, subverts those rules—leading groups of tourists on secret trips to the site.
On the surface, there's a lot of Disaster Inc. that doesn't feel too different from reality; underground tours have been occurring in Fukushima in the past few years. The series turns the real situation into something more fantastical, with the introduction of giant samurai ghosts haunting the land. As the series continues, it will be interesting to see if that detail helps or hurts the story, as it could easily come across as trivializing the already plenty traumatic nature of this recent tragedy.
There is one thing that Disaster Inc. establishes effectively right out of the gate—the complicated privilege associated with underground tourism. Through a narration dump from Abby, who serves as the audience's proxy, readers are able to quickly see through the veneer of people signed up for this particular excursion. It's clear that a lot of the series' characters are there for selfish gains, whether it's to "stick it to the man" and protest the government's treatment of the environment, or to obtain a unique social media photo. This mix of characters feels like the closest spiritual successor yet to Vertigo's criminally-underrated Unfollow, although this debut lacks that series' bite.
Disaster Inc. makes some interesting choices in its artwork, with Sebastian Piriz's watercolor-like hues being the first thing that stands out on the page. That choice puts the series on a different aesthetic footing than you might expect, allowing for the beauty and the horror of its locations to shine through simultaneously. The art itself works well as an extension of that, although some of the character's facial expressions occasionally push towards the bizarre. The lettering by Carlos M. Mangual compliments everything nicely, adding the right air of urgency to the adventure as it begins to unfold.
Based on the first issue, Disaster Inc. could be called both a complex and too-simple comic book—but that might not be an inherently bad thing. People trying to commercialize and capitalize on atrocities is nothing new (it's something that is already happening during the COVID-19 pandemic), which makes the idea of Disaster Inc. dissecting the idea fascinating enough to potentially make the entire series worth reading. Both narratively and aesthetically, Disaster Inc. doesn't completely shatter expectations in its debut, but still establishes what could be an entertaining and engaging adventure.
Published by AfterShock Comics
On May 20, 2020
Written by Joe Harris
Art by Sebastian Piriz
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Cover by Andy Clarke with Jose Villarrubia