It's very common for contemporary writers to very cynically deconstruct the tropes and traits of traditional superhero comics. And it's really easy to do! Take some very obvious, unsubtle analogues of popular characters. Add some profanity. A dash of shocking violence. Sprinkle in some sex and you've got a marketable potential franchise. Frankly, I'm done with the grim, dark exploitation-style of comics writing. So the mere premise of Gail Simone's Leaving Megalopolis had me yawning. In the first part of Simone‘s story, the superheroes of America's shiniest, hero-iest city turned heel. And suddenly, all that power was concentrated on the wrong side of the law. The resulting physical devastation and social upheaval could understandably cause a shift in the way actual heroes operate and are perceived. Judging the follow-up -- Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1 -- purely by that premise you’d be forgiven for expecting the worst from this mini-series. Thankfully, it isn’t so bad.
There is dark, dirty places you could visit in the name of subverting costumed heroics. Leaving Megalopolis seems to be slightly above that. Simone makes certain that things get ugly. And the villainous ex-heroes aren't the playful or safe kind of evil. Our bad guys are unambiguously bad. Even the supposed good eggs are a little too comfortable with cracking heads. But Gail Simone is a superstar for a reason. She surrounds the typical hero stuff with little pockets of human drama. And she folds those into the larger tragedy of a city destroyed by its protectors. All the while there's light comedy to ease some of the bite of Surviving Megalopolis.
Likewise, Jim Calafiore's art grounds the ridiculously garish costumes in naturalistic environments. He's clearly more comfortable with action scenes than anything else. His odd, inconsistent renderings are just strange enough to be distracting. It doesn't ruin the book, but the book never pulls the "camera" back far enough to show any real scope to the world or stakes to the action. Calafiore is limited by the script. The plotting is frequently bland -- witty dialog aside. And accordingly every panel passes by in a dull, gray blur.
I can't say I got much out of this issue. Several plot points take place. Plot elements are introduced and/or hinted at. There are fleeting glances at characters, lasting long enough only to be frustratingly yanked away. Surviving Megalopolis moves too fast for its own good. It lacks focus. And by the time things get moving in a recognizable direction, you're at the last page.
Disappointingly, there's very little sense of survival. Instead the book builds up anticipation for what's likely going to be a violent confrontation between costumes. The premise gives us a world that thought it was perfect, suddenly and confusingly thrown into chaos. The little people caught in the middle are so far removed from the spotlight it becomes difficult to compartmentalize the major dilemma. And, while that sentiment may be the result not having any connection to the original hardcover, I can only judge the work for what it gives me as a current reader. Would I care more about these characters if I knew what they previously stood for or what they are currently after or who they fight for? Probably. But this is the start of a new leg of a journey and the book fails to take me along with it.
Reading Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis feels like I’m constantly trying to catch up. It's entertaining enough, but leaves me wanting the script to meet me halfway.
Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1 Writer: Gail Simone Artist: Jim Calafiore Colorist: Jason Wright Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/13/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital