Count me among those who were more than a bit unimpressed with Second Coming, the highly-touted series from writer Mark Russell and artists Richard Pace and Leonard Kirk that was scuttled at Vertigo due to its purported “sacrilegious” content before finding a new home at Ahoy Comics. Far from taking any sort of pot-shots at organized religion, the “Jesus-meets-Superman-analogue” premise actually reinforced tired Christian dogma at the end of the day and Russell’s usually-sharp satirical wit was uncharacteristically blunted by a chickenshit desire to play it safe and offend as few people as possible. Hell, by the time all was said and done, this was such a milquetoast offering that even the most fervent evangelical nutcase wouldn’t find much worth objecting to in it apart from some vaguely liberal “be kind to one another” politics. And let’s remember — evangelicals claim to believe in that sort of thing themselves, even though their actions frequently indicate otherwise.
So, yeah, when I heard Russell was doing another project with Ahoy I was kinda “ho-hum” about the whole thing. But when I heard he was going to once again be teaming up with his collaborator on the brilliant DC re-launch of Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintsones, versatile veteran artist Steve Pugh, and that their new four-issue series, Billionaire Island, was going to be wearing its “class war” politics on its sleeve — well, suddenly I became very interested. And to date, that interest has been handsomely rewarded.
So, our setting is the near future, where one asshole billionaire (is there any other kind?) has set up an offshore “tax haven” island for other asshole billionaires to live out their lives in even more ease and luxury than they enjoy today, while the rest of the world effectively toils away at cleaning up the mess this wealth disparity has created. Fortunately for us, there’s an undercover hero looking to bring the island down — but unforuntely for her, others have tried to expose the evil and corruption afoot on the island before, and they’re still trapped there. And she’s about to get to know them all very well.
Russell is back in prime form with this one, balancing his razor-barbed class critique with a light, humanizing touch of humor, and throwing nifty ideas (like a net-worth screening device at the island’s airport) at readers at a mile-a-minute pace. There’s a lot to keep up with conceptually, but the story is about as straightforward as it gets, and quite a bit of fun, to boot, sending up any number of “reality” TV tropes as it goes. If you don’t like this, then you don’t like having a good time, plain and simple.
Either that, of you’re a right-winger, and odds are that if you fit that unfortunate description, you already gave up on this site a long time ago. But honestly, I think that anybody of any political leaning would find something in here worth both chuckling at and thinking about, given that it’s all presented without any sort of preachiness or sanctimony, with Russell opting instead to confidently just work his point of view into the metaphorical “DNA” of his premise and take it from there. That’s how you craft a good story and blunt any criticism of it all in one fell swoop.
As for Pugh, he plays it fairly straight and it works — his lines are clean, his facial expressions and body language are exaggerated just enough, and his “slick” illustrations do a great job of both conveying and parodying OTT excess. This is the whole package, and with two issues down and two left to go I can already tell we’re looking at something both timely and memorable here.
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