MALL #1 / Writers: Gary Dauberman & Michael Moreci / Artist: Zak Hartong / Colorist: Addison Duke / Letterer: Jim Campbell / Publisher: Vault / Release date: August 28, 2019
“The world ended, and we’re still acting like status matters.”
Writers Gary Dauberman (Annabelle and It movies, as well as The Nun) and Michael Moreci (Wasted Space) treat us to a post-apocalyptic scenario where the world is burning but people still band together inside a shell of consumerist bliss and force anyone we don’t like into the uncaring void. If this were a present-day story, the Disney+ servers would still be operational, but instead people have turned to inflicting sword, baseball bat, and arrow-based violence on others. Now do you see the value of corporate overlords? Left to its own devices, humanity re-enacts The Warriors. The circumstances of the apocalypse are not terribly specific – where the protagonists are concerned, the mall at the end of the world was simple enough to survive in until it came for them. A woman with a covered eye (wound?) loses her baby to a violent gang, seemingly part of the prologue. Alternately, survivor Andre Reed is framed for the murder of a big cheese in the mall, and his late daughter Tess and her followers want Andre’s blood in return. One-Eyed Woman reappears to bail him out, and they race toward the next issue full of potential narrative energy.
“You want to live, then let’s go.”
Let’s talk about that potential narrative energy, because Mall #1 is chock full of it. From the prologue to One-Eyed Woman (OEW?) to Andre’s panicked getaways to the conclusion of this issue, the story is always swiftly transitioning to another chase, another turning of the tables. Hey, it’s the first issue! A post-apocalyptic hit job ought to get the blood racing, or else what’s the point? Zak Hartong (Albatross, Clovis) fills crowd shots with swinging melee weapons and assorted wardrobe choices that range from “Mad Max extra” to “scene stealer.” Tess is already a force of vengeance with her bold eyes and white body armor, demanding an origin story for how she found herself leading a depraved movement. Likewise, Andre’s unseen but apparently influential father sends a rescue team for Andre, including a flail-wielding woman complete with posing posse wearing shirts with slogans like “MAN MADE MEAT” and “PISS ANGEL.” People are not always drawn in much detail – sometimes faceless figures populate a panel – but they still serve the story and its anarchic momentum.
Andre is easily the star of the issue, crashing from one disaster into another several times over. A lot of people want him dead, and his day starts off waking up without any memory of the blood on his hands. He’s scrappy in a fight, always scanning his environment for a shard of glass or oxygen tank to give him an edge when outnumbered and outgunned, or sometimes he’ll swing a katana or kick below the belt. Andre is the sort of character who is constantly overwhelmed yet knows how to operate under pressure. I’m curious how he behaves when he’s allowed to breathe and collect his bearings, but for his debut he gives readers a running tour of the mall.
“Below or beyond, what’s it going to–”
OEW’s offer to Andre of either going below ground to escape or go beyond – outside the mall – to certain doom is a good cliffhanger as well as narrative branch. Now that we know the mall itself is a den of violent chaos, especially with Andre framed for a high-profile murder, what next? Either way, this comic’s secret weapon is Addison Duke’s colors. The world and cast are worn down and beat up, but Duke (Curse Words, Barbarella/Dejah Thoris) brings them to life with a Polaroid-esque quality. This story of the future is grimy like an overexposed photo. Flames, shadows, and sound effects all announce themselves on the page via Duke’s use of contrast between warm colors and dark/neutral frames. Similarly, Jim Campbell’s balloon placement and lettering conveys OEW’s desperation, Tess’s mercilessness, and Andre’s frenzy.
Vault Comics has made a tidy reputation for itself over the past few years with its flurry of fantasy and sci-fi titles, and Mall is already on track to become another feather in their cap.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5
Thomas is a teen services librarian who reads way too many comics. He can be found gobbling pancakes at the nearest diner with Jessica Cruz, Forsythe Jones III, Jane Foster, and Hellboy. He reviews media for the public here and graphic novels for librarians at No Flying, No Tights.