Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Jim Calafiore
Release Date: 17th September, 2014
With Surviving Megalopolis – the follow-up story to Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore’s Kickstarter sensation Leaving Megalopolis – set to hit shelves in January, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for me to take a look back at the original release, which provided one of the most shockingly memorable twists on the superhero genre that I can remember.
One of the world’s safest cities has suddenly become its most dangerous, with the superheroes that once protected it turning into homicidal maniacs, hunting the city’s inhabitants for sport and preventing any of them from leaving. The story is centred around a small group of ordinary citizens and their desperate attempt to escape, with Simone having all sorts of fun twisting the established tropes of the superhero genre, making the ‘regular’ people the real heroes and reveling in the sheer horror caused by these near-godlike creatures deciding to use their powers for evil rather than good.
This is a dark story in more ways than one, from the cruel, sadistic heroes hunting the terrified inhabitants of their city to the almost unimaginable horrors of lead character Mina’s childhood. The small cast of characters each have their own unique quirks, yet are all fairly unremarkable in their own way – seemingly by design. We don’t have that one ex-military guy who just so happens to have a massive stockpile of weapons in the back of his truck, instead we have grief-stricken housewives, male nurses and mall security guards, and if anything, it actually enhances the story to see such quote-unquote “normal” people showing this much resolve and heroism.
Jim Califiore’s artwork is absolutely stunning here, with some impressive character design for the “crazy capes” that offer vague suggestions of established heroes (Superman, the Flash, etc.) without ever verging into out-and-out parody. He works in perfect synergy with Simone’s story throughout, letting the pace ebb and flow and managing to switch from tense horror to all-out superhero warfare without ever missing a beat.
Probably the highlight of this first volume – for me, at least – is the group’s encounter with the speedster known as Fleet. Utterly chilling from start to finish, the exchange sees Fleet taking great pleasure in toying with his prey, knowing full well that he could easily kill every single one of them before they even had a chance to blink. His emaciated, almost skeletal appearance, complete with shattered mask and sunken eye socket, only adds to the stomach-churning sense of fear throughout the exchange, and his parting shot provides perhaps the best single page of the entire book. Truly sublime stuff, and it happens early enough into the volume so as to completely and utterly hook the reader for the rest of the way.
The book isn’t without its flaws – the actual explanation for just why the heroes went crazy in the first place, not to mention what’s stopping them from just leaving the city, is fairly non-existent, for example – but the sheer impact of both the story and artwork is almost impossible to fault. From the opening pages of the silent, terrified city to the final frenetic confrontation on the bridge, Leaving Megalopolis is a comic that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go until long after you’ve turned the final page.
If you ever wanted to see what happens when the good guys go bad, then this is most definitely the comic for you. However, Leaving Megalopolis is a lot more than the creators saying “hey, let’s have some crazy superheroes killing people”, and features some brilliantly three-dimensional characters and a real sense of emotional investment throughout. Highly recommended, and based on what we’ve seen so far of the upcoming sequel, Surviving Megalopolis is set to be one of the runaway hits of 2016.
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