Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer/Artist: Andrew MacLean
Release Date: 4th March 2020
ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times is an original graphic novel from Head Lopper creator Andrew MacLean, originally launched back in 2015 but getting a fresh new hardcover release with additional story and sketchbook content – as well as a sexy new cover – this week.
Providing a distinctly unique take on dystopian fiction, this book introduces us to Aria, a young girl in a post-apocalyptic world locked into a fruitless search for a powerful ancient relic. Her only companion amidst the tribes of savages is a cat named Jelly Beans, and she finds herself passing her time by singing to herself and trying to repair a giant robot she found. A robot who she has decided to name ‘Gus’.
The main story runs the whole gamut of emotions throughout its 96 pages, from light-hearted humour to powerful human drama before ending with an impressively poignant finale. In Aria, MacLean has created a truly fascinating protagonist; a smart, silly young girl who, in spite of her outwardly upbeat appearance, is clearly struggling with the loneliness and isolation of her mission. Her often one-sided relationship with Jelly Beans is likely to be more than familiar to any cat owners out there, as is the powerful bond she has formed with her feline best friend.
MacLean’s artwork is truly impressive throughout, with a deceptively straightforward style that still manages to be packed full of emotion and expression. In a lot of ways his style is reminiscent of INJ Culbard, which – if you’ve read any of my previous reviews of his work – is something of a compliment. Managing to build a living, breathing world around Aria, MacLean introduces new characters and creatures gradually, letting the strong characterisation of his lead carry the story forward.
From outward appearances at least, ApocalyptiGirl looks like an all-ages comic, with a light and breezy, almost manga-esque style throughout. That is, however, until the swords come out, the limbs start being removed and the blood starts flowing. The intriguing transformations that Aria undergoes throughout the course of the book, switching from a smiling, singing girl playing ‘got your nose’ with her pet cat to a fierce, snarling warrior defending herself in brutal fashion from the world around her adds an extra layer of nuance to the story, and it’s this growth that provides the real heart of MacLean’s creation.
The additional story content comes in the form of two short stories, one before and one after the main narrative. Each adds some additional context and flavour to Aria’s mission, with the ‘after’ one showing us what the next steps in Aria’s life looks like, and the ‘before’ one delivering more of an action-focused affair – always a pleasure when McLean is involved.
Five years removed from its initial release, I still can’t find anything to fault about ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times. The narrative is tight, the characterisation is spot-on, and the artwork – while frequently unconventional in its approach – is truly a feast for the eyes. MacLean has managed to weave a tale filled with humour and emotion with a powerful message at its core, and I simply can’t recommend this book highly enough.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]