THOUGHT BUBBLE 2023! Ostensibly this is a review of the fifth and concluding story arc volume of acclaimed sci-fi series Killtopia. In reality, though, such is the unpredictable nature of this story over its five chapters that the specifics of this denouement will be alluded to only, for fear of giving away too much for those wanting to pick up the run at Thought Bubble this weekend or thereafter. And grabbing all the available albums is well worth the investment of time and money as reading the entire run in one sitting allows the reader to experience the taut plotting of writer Dave Cook’s story with a greater degree of appreciation.
Set in a dystopian future Tokyo this cyberpunk epic features a sprawling cast of characters whose aims or agendas are all linked to the world’s “most brutal bloodsport” Killtopia. One area of the city has becomes infested with deadly robots known as Mechs who are hunted by the human Wreckers, the fame-seeking pop culture icons of this era.
But there are wider consequences of the Mechs’ presence. They have spread a nanobot plague known as The Rot to the human population. Inexperienced Wrecker Shinji’s sister is gravely ill with this ailment so when he discovers Crash, the first sentient Mech who has the cure, he finds himself at the centre of a power play between the opposing powerful factions all wanting this knowledge for themselves. Meanwhile an even greater threat has surfaced. One that is linked to the true origin of the Mechs and threatens the entire planet…
The first obvious thing to note about Killtopia is that this is a series that could never be criticised for being decompressed. Indeed, it is absolutely packed with ideas and plot points, with unexpected twists and turns that keep the reader on their toes. Perhaps if I had one critical note it would be that in an ideal comics publishing world Cook would have had the ability to tell this story over more volumes at a more leisurely pace but, that said, Killtopia’s frenetic pacing is also part of the reason it’s such a compelling collection.
It’s interesting that the premise the book is sold on – the future sports angle – is only part of the picture. This is actually a very sophisticated piece of world-building and one that turns our assumptions about its initial science fiction tropes firmly on their head as events progress. In many ways it’s a sci-fi capitalism horror story but it’s also a commentary on the cult of personality as well as a rollicking good, action-packed shoot-‘em-up.
Clark Bint’s art on this final part brilliantly captures the frantic energy of Cook’s scripting. His kinetic layouts and page structures adeptly depict the brutality and frenzied conflict of this unforgiving environment, while still capturing those quieter and more poignant character moments.
One of the reasons I rarely review the more obvious genre fiction small press comics here at BF is that while they may be fun and entertaining in themselves they are sometimes also very derivative, largely acting as audition pieces for serial comic publishers. Killtopia is anything but. It’s a genuinely inventive story that puts entire new spins on the established standards of its genre. If you have the money and the time then pick up all five editions and see for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Dave Cook (W), Clark Bint (A) • BHP Comics, £9.99
Dave Cook is at Table C46 in the Redshirt Hall at Thought Bubble 2023
Review by Andy Oliver