I never thought I would be comparing Brandon Graham’s King City to Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, but alas, I feel the similarities are sound. Each are set in a future within an arguably pulsing beast of city, filled to the gills with an impunity of common alien interaction and even baser though humdrum human depravity. Places where the expectation is that the graffiti outnumbers the tabula rasa by magnitudes.
Where Transmet excels in propelling humanity’s collective neuroses in a bubbling, angst and drug-fueled supernova against our impending future failures of corruption and over-consumption, Graham shrugs, writing a softer, more rounded-edged comic. King City is quite a finely balanced, smoothened world-building of urban locale and inhabitants over the importance of story itself (as Graham will honestly explain). At first glance it’s a future candyland of youthful crime syndicates, secret sasquatches, and homages to Street Fighter and Dumb Donald of Fat Albert lore. But what’s more interesting is the subtle social commentary: Graham introduces a future that belongs solely to youth; where at least in this city, no one above age forty is to be found anywhere. Where technology is based more on moving organic parts, not necessarily gears. A city where the economy is based on the exchange of goods and information between a myriad of local weirdo coteries.
Perhaps Graham’s work is an echo of the gen-x slacker ethos represented through no better avatar than the cat. Joe is his main protagonist, Catmaster extraordinaire, just a regular guy though always within arm-length of his bucket of cat-in-waiting death vortex. When not casually “paint bawlin” or couch-slouching with friend Pete observing the latest ninja swarm, the duo is performing their next score for an unknown employer, paw-picking locks, or slinking through every inch of King City unseen. Yes bad dudes are afoot (the menacing Eye Focus cadre is well depicted), but Graham’s preponderance upon the cat is a fascinating juxtaposition against a future feline domination of say of Paolo Bacigalupi. Not necessarily gods, but furry receptacles of menace and utilitarian potential, cats symbolize for Graham a yin-yang of slack-action, “slacktion” if you will, a perfect balance of pacific naptime and frenzied claws to the face. Wielded in the right hands, the cat-and-master hybrid is a fascinating conception of domestication redefined.
In addition to Graham’s compulsion to deftly drop pop-culture wordplay (pun times, man) in nearly every panel, King City is a setting where Joe (and even Pete – whose side-quest is just as noble) can choose sit out the current apocalypse to lend a hand to help a friend. There will always be another one to fight, as Graham places heavy emphasis on small acts of decency that are too easy to dismiss amid a festering saucepan of urban future-crazy. This compiled edition is excellent as it contains bonus stories and supplemental material as Graham provides needed background on his Catmaster history (Mudd is an intriguing and too underwritten character in my opinion), as well as stellar guest contributions. Amid a gonzo future-culture critique, King City is a surprisingly insightful and deep comic collection.