By Zack Quaintance — Before we talk Friendo #2, I think it’s worth a brief reminder of how the first issue ended...with a likely vagrant (who’s not the main character’s dad, but maybe?) stabbing our hero in the back before taking his wallet and remarking, Never look for meaning in a desert. Then a downed powerline flopped into our hero, electrocuting him so severely we saw his bones. Caught up? Good, because issue two picks up where the previous chapter ended (sort of): a desert in which its unwise to look for meaning.
Visually, I found the opening of Friendo #2 stunning, rendered by Martin Simmonds (with bright colors by Dee Cunniffe). I especially liked the placement of the first three panels and their contents: a setting sun, followed by a slightly lower lizard’s beady black eye, followed by a human eye within a face that’s clearly had its skin peeled. Next, we see said skinless human walking across the desert, almost surreal, like something from a film by Jodorowsky.
One could be forgiven for thinking our main character, Leo, was dead, but also, Friendo is a comic that won’t let the poor guy off that easy. So, soon we’re back in the near-future, where ambush marketers crash cars on purpose (incurring serious injury), paparazzi drones roam the skies evaluating who’s worth filming based on cold algorithms, and raging wildfires send ash into the air, always (sound familiar?). By the time we get past the ethereal opening and to the plot proper, the book is primed to delve into what’s really been its central concern from the start: unbridled and addictive consumerism (and its impact on the identity of the individuals it needs to exist).
Last issue, we saw Leo gifted a two-in-one anthropomorphic search engine and ride or die bestie—brand name, Friendo...individual name, Jerry—and in this issue we see the deeper nature of the insidious relationship that this marketing AI is forming with Leo, one in which he endears himself to our hero and trades actualization so as to foster a never-ending chain of purchases. But we learn as the plot continues that the AI’s power doesn’t stop there, that it’s so relentless in its marketing, it can also influence technology in the larger world, causing harm to other people if they threaten to get in its way.
This book, it should perhaps be noted, is from Vault Comics, and while the books put out by that publisher are disparate in theme and plot, the thing they share is it's tough to pin down their genres, be it Deep Roots, Submerged, or Fearscape. Friendo is cut from that same genre-bending cloth, but to me this issue firmly establishes it as horror, with the traditional monster or knife-wielding baddie played to subtle perfection by unstoppable (yet startlingly plausible) greed.
The villain here is basically late model capitalism at its skeeziest. One thing I particularly liked about this issue was that it twisted the idea of capitalism as a villain (which is being done all over now in this age of awful President Trump), and made it not as deliberate and overt as it could be. The capitalism-born antagonist in Friendo is not just a CEo, but rather a natural extension of CEO intent that has been turbocharged by a malfunction and deregulation as a corporate board looks the other way...which makes it even scarier and way more real.
Overall: As I noted in my review of Friendo #1, the debut of this series was loaded with intriguing potential. Friendo #2 makes good on that promise, crafting a near-future horror story that casts extreme capitalism and human indifference as its villains. It’s chilling stuff, laden with cautionary lessons for our times. 9.0/10
Writer: Alex Paknadel
Artist: Martin Simmonds
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.