REVIEW: Friendo #3 takes aim at big box retailers with a heavy dose of grindhouse horror

Friendo #3 is out 12/19.

By Zack Quaintance — “You know decline’s not linear.” This is the first line of Friendo #3—a comic about a near future in which late-model capitalism has been extrapolated to some terrifyingly-familiar places—and it may as well be a mission statement for this book’s ambitions. At least, that’s my take after three issues, and I appreciate this kind of tipping of the thematic hand. It enables the creators to focus on the story, almost like they’re saying, okay, you know what we’re up to now...but you have no idea how gruesome this world can get.

This world and by extension our own, really, seeing as Friendo takes place in a future so near it makes one wonder if some of the story’s technologies are currently in research and development, with ethical conversations (or, more likely, public relations conversations) taking place about whether this tech should be put into beta. So, that’s my 20,000-foot Friendo perspective.

This issue also gives readers a closer view of the story’s themes. In the first two issues, we largely saw our main character explored as a consumer, as a pawn in marketing schemes at first, later tapped and exploited for his (somewhat meager) buying power. This issue shifts the angle from which it explores over-blown capitalism by putting scrutiny on big box retailers and how they treat workers. In this comic, a Wal-Mart stand-in (named Cornutopia, which, awesome) gets the brunt of it, being directly implicated for the current state of the nation because 20 years ago it extinguished small business owners and is now embracing automation to boost profits even further.

Automation means layoffs. Layoffs mean rage. Everything spirals. The center cannot hold.

The dots are connected: the nation is in a place where individuals are being melted down (literally in one scene) until all that’s left is indebted buying power. It’s an obvious state of decline, the causes for which date back years, and how did it come about? Private companies went wild and unrestrained. Given a few trusting inches, they gobbled up miles, until one day we were all living in a disaster. How sure am of this message? Well, there’s even a scene in Friendo #3 that depicts the owners of Cornutopia literally murdering a representative of the IRS.

On the nose? Oh, like crazy. But this is an audacious comic. That brings me to the other layer of this book, the one that’s less symbolic and more of an entertaining romp laden with grindhouse visuals. The base pitch for this book is maybe that a man’s personal marketing bot comes to life and hi-jinx ensue. Well, not to spoil anything here but after some early events, that marketing bot is somewhat much worse for the wear, rendered in glory gory (so sorry for that word play) here by Martin Simmonds.

As I noted in my Friendo #1 review, the first few issues of this comic built a complex narrative foundation, one from which the creative team could have told a number of fascinating stories. After Friendo #2, I was fully on board with its exploration of the extremes of greed and indifference. Where is my head at following Friendo #3? Now, I’m starting to want the answers—what in the world is going to happen next?    

Overall: Oh, the horror. Friendo continues to look at what happens when corporate control and capitalism runs rampant over society and individuals, doing so in this issue by taking a searing look at big box retailers like Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, an entertaining grindhouse plotline is unfolding, like a guide leading us through a field of complex ideas. 9.0/10

Friendo #3
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.