With critical hits like Prez, The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles and Second Coming, Mark Russell has proved himself to be the master of serial comics satire of his generation. Billionaire Island, released this week by Ahoy Comics, reunites Russell with his Flintstones collaborator Steve Pugh for the duo’s much anticipated dark comedy series.
Set in a near(ish) future where the 1%’s privilege has escalated to all-new levels of obscenity this first issue introduces us to the titular getaway island, more commonly known as Freedom Unlimited, where the ultra-rich can indulge their every whim and get away from the troublesome classes beneath them. The brainchild of social media mogul Rick Canto (who has more than the odd atrocity in his business portfolio) its a refuge for those who think themselves above the law.
Anyone who crosses paths with Canto lives to regret it, as some unwilling guests on Freedom Unlimited are finding out to their cost. But Canto’s past may just be about to catch up with both him and the other residents of this “Billionaire Island”…
Once again Mark Russell doesn’t so much capture the zeitgeist as skilfully mould and manipulate it into narrative form. If we’re to frame the satire here in comics terms Billionaire Island is a combination of Gerber-ian cutting comedy and the dark humour of classic early ‘80s 2000 AD. What’s so terrifying about the world Russell and Pugh have created is that, yes, it’s satirical one but despite all the storytelling extravagances it also feels all too possible. Disturbingly so.
Within those more ostentatious narrative trappings Billionaire Island‘s core conceit is a simple extrapolation, even down to the pantomime villainy of its antagonist. After all, in a world where pantomime villains with the most sinister of agendas are actually leading countries how could it not be? That sense of ultimate entitlement, and the contempt for the “not-we” that the privileged few of Billionaire Island have, is infinitely more chilling than any horror comics narrative you’ll read this year.
Steve Pugh’s art is so vital here in bringing the casual arrogance of Canto and his ilk to life with a subtle but oh-so-telling line in visual characterisation. Especially in the smarmy dismissiveness and unfaltering belief in his own superiority that oozes off every panel this odious antagonist appears in. In a story that mirrors the injustices of our world with such frightening familiarity we can only hope he’ll get his dramatic comeuppance by story’s end but nothing feels guaranteed here. In a similar bleak vein, the often bright, vibrant and hopeful colours Chris Chuckry uses to depict the island’s luxury environment feel deeply ironic thematically.
Social commentary with an uncompromising determination and a caustic wit, Billionaire Island is going to get readers talking every bit as much as Second Coming. It’s flying off shelves already so be quick if you want to get your hands on what is no doubt going to be one of the major serial comics hits of 2020.
Mark Russell (W), Steve Pugh (A), Chris Chuckry (C), Rob Steen (L), Steve Pugh and Pia Guerra (CA) • Ahoy Comics, $3.99
Review by Andy Oliver