If the mere suggestion that a body of work could have multiple and separate interpretations does not get your puzzle brain activated, then you are one single flavor of ice cream, and that flavor is “boring.” This book is the “eight-scoop chocolate fudge sundae topped with every goodie including Trolli Peach-O’s” of metaphors. It demands you put on those fancy analysis boots you took off after getting your English degree and take a fine walk through futuristic alter-verse of sci-fi meaningfulness.
In this place, war is a spectator sport. What is this place? I am not sure they say exactly, but, ultimately, it does not matter. It could be a future Earth. It could be and actually is nowhere. Get past this detail quickly by picking up vibe clues, and it will serve you well. At first, I was put off by a lack of explanation but soon realized I was reading this book incorrectly. (Yes, you can read stuff the wrong way.) After I adjusted, all of the choices being made by Ivan Brandon smoothed out what was an otherwise bumpy beginning. Sometimes, the physical place is not as important as how the place behaves with respect to our own world. For example…
This is an ad for a soda called Cherry Combat. It appears as interstitial world building in between issues. The product both sounds gross and, by combining warfare with product placement, is doing a gross thing. In this case, VS puts forth a notion that capitalism has gone too far. Is this relatable to you? You decide!
The story revolves around an aging war hero named Satta Flynn. He is a no-holds-barred, bad attitude-having space marine. The problem with Flynn is that he is getting old and literally falling apart. Enter the new and much more qualified Major Devi. She is also a bad-to-the-cyber-bone, ninja-esque warrior bound for glory. Here is an image that perfectly encapsulates their dynamic…
Where the collected volume of VS truly pulls its weight as a series is in carefully tracking Flynn and Devi’s juxtaposition, moment to moment. Every issue seems to be plagued with a question of ethics, and the reader brings their own bias to the story. Either we believe that the new generation should learn from the old guard and not take their job out of their capable hands, or we believe the old guard should make way for a younger much more capable generation gracefully. Though Flynn and Devi have nothing against each other personally, society thrusts upon them a choice.
The framing of the book suggests that these wars are sponsored. We literally see ads pop up during battle sequences as if we were watching the war happen through an app. This makes viewership important, as it is tied to the revenue stream these wars bring in, and while the audience is under the assumption that the war is real, they also treat it like it episodes of American Idol. Certain soldiers have fans, stats, and sponsors all on their own.
The book takes a fascinating turn in the second issue, and, suddenly, big decisions in war politics are now dictated by the audience at home, as they are integral to the economics of this universe. Needless to say, Flynn garners favor with a mass audience and must continue to fight even though it is not wise for him to do so. This is the main thread of our story and is a direct result of social media’s influence on culture, and even war.
The story presents such a rich tapestry of topical brain-mazes that I had to rediscover the art on my second read through. Esad Ribić is really good at what he does. Though I had never heard of Ivan Brandon before reading the book, I was familiar with Esad Ribić’s work, especially in Secret Wars. Most of the characters appear as photorealistic, even through their alien faces. This might not be the most eloquent way to put this, but Esad Ribić’s drawings are just cool. Yeah, dude, like really cool. Just look at this one…
You can read VS again and again, if not for the stunning visuals, then maybe to explore the many different meanings it holds. The story works as science fiction, but it also succeeds as a great action drama. I find that the noise pollution of each image builds upon the unrelenting screaming of all of its characters. This is a loud book, and the aggravated volume increases with every pop-up ad it shoves down your throat. In a world where we all struggle to find moments alone and away from our phones for even temporary self-introspection, the idea of quiet seems to shake the very center of my institutionalized connectedness. To quote Flynn in the opening of the book, “...I can’t abide a silence.”
Creative Team: Ivan Brandon (writer), Esad Ribić (art), Nic Klein (colors)
Publisher: Image Comics
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