By Jonathan Edwards
I've been looking forward to getting my hands of Plastic ever since Image announced it back in January. The premise is one of those that pretty much guarantees that the story can only be a bad situation turning into a far worse one, but it'll so weird and twisted the whole time through that it kind of has to be worth at least checking out. I was completely expecting someone else to have called it for review as soon as it went up on the spreadsheet, but that didn't happen. So, here I am. And after reading through Plastic #1, it's actually not what I expected. Well, okay, it's exactly what I expected, but the execution and presentation are different. Although let me be clear, that's by no means a bad thing. What I'd thought was there'd be this incredibly thin veneer of "everything is so wonderful, and there can't possibly be anything bad on the horizon." A candy coating to the dark chocolate that is this book, if you will. Nope, no facade whatsoever. From the very first panel, it's abundantly clear what kind of story this is.
I think the biggest thing that stands out for me from this first issue is that, despite the subject matter, it doesn't really feel mean-spirited. This sets Plastic apart from something like, say, Renato Jones: The One%. With the latter, sole creator Kaare Kyle Andrews quite evidently hates the incredibly wealthy, and so does his book. It tinges the narrative with an overall hostility, but that's the thematic he was going for. It works there, and that's what I thought Doug Wagner, Daniel Hillyard, and company were going to do here. But, they didn't. Despite the abundance of outright unhealthy behavior, our protagonist, Edwyn (who we technically only know as "Victor" thus far) isn't absurdly or unrepentantly evil. He's dangerously unstable, but he kind of knows it. He doesn't quite know the full ramification of his actions, but he's not actively trying to hurt people at all times. Really, he doesn't want to hurt people at all.
It's also interesting to note that the first person "Victor" interacts with is, well, not a dick. He's just a normal dude. And to that end, Edwyn's interaction with him is completely passive. They talk a little, Edwyn shops around, and that's about it. In a way, it's like there's no conflict. But, it works. It works really well. And not just that, it's pretty refreshing too. See, there really is a conflict, but it's completely internal to Edwyn. He's trying to be normal. However, we don't get ham-fisted and creatively bankrupt narration boxes of him trying to "resist the urge" or whatever to illustrate that. We do get narration boxes, but they're him mentally checking things off of his grocery list. It's a far subtler approach, deriving tension from its context. Even if you don't know anything about Edwyn going into Plastic, something's clearly not right when the entirety of the first scene has him carrying on a conversation with no one in particular. It gives all of Edwyn's interaction with "normal guy" (I don't think he's ever named) this growing sense of uneasiness, because we don't really learn what's going on until the scene after. And when that happens, it only reinforces what we've already been feeling.
Of course, one the biggest contributors to that uneasiness and sense of something being off is the art. The pencils are, frankly, really good. Specifically, I really like Edwyn's design, the gauntness of his face emphasized with the juxtaposition of sunken eyes to prominent cheek bones and a strong jaw. He ends up being what I imagine you'd get if you crossed Willem Dafoe with Jake Gyllenhaal's character from Nightcrawler. Furthermore, the colors for pretty much the entire first half of the book, as well as a good chunk of the second, emphasize pale yellows and green . It's a simple but incredibly effective way to create an aesthetic of unhealthiness.
To briefly go back to what I said about this book not being mean-spirited, even the apparent antagonist doesn't seem all that evil. Don't get me wrong, much like Edwyn, he does do bad thing. But, he's not a one-note, gleeful agent of chaos about them. Some of his subordinates do act like that, but it plays more like some form of overcompensation with them. It's like the whole point of them acting that way was because we weren't supposed to take them seriously to begin with, so it works.
Plastic #1 is a strong and intriguing start, providing nuance to what could easily be pure exploitation. It feels like some punches are being pulled for the sake of easing us in, but it also serves to titillate with the question of just how hard they're going to nail us later. This book is, of course, not for everyone. But, if you can stomach the likes of Nailbiter and the similarly dark and gruesome, I highly recommend picking this one up.
Writer: Doug Wagner
Artist: Daniel Hillyard
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Editor: Keven Gardner
Publisher: Image Comics