By Zack Quaintance — I am nothing if not a sucker for a strong opening page, an opening page that orients you as a reader, that tells you in a broad sense what this story is about, that draws you in with artwork and prose and maybe even a bit of timeliness, that leads right up to a killer page turn a big reveal that speeds you off through the plot like hitting a turbo boost in Mario Kart. While I’m uncool and have no idea if I nailed that last reference, what I do know is that The Mall #1 has an absolutely killer opening page. The exact type of opening page I’m looking for when I dive into any new #1 comic, especially a creator-owned book like this one with a wholly new (and very interesting concept).
One of the many things I found captivating in The Mall #1 is its base concept. There’s a subtle suggestion of causation that is inherent to the idea of a group of people waiting out the apocalypse in a mall. This book features a very realistic sort of apocalypse, one brought on by the very realistic climate threats we’re facing now. The book doesn’t belabor this, but in that aforementioned excellent first page, the insinuation is there. At the same time, one who’s relatively plugged in to what’s happening today can draw a direct line from the consumerist mall culture of the 90s—the more more more retailing, the hulking air conditioned structures that were malls, the sprawling parking lots for our fossil fueled vehicles that extended from them vast and seemingly infinite in every direction—to the accelerating threat of climate change. The point I’m making here is this book’s very DNA is aware and relevant and effortlessly poignant, especially for those of us who grew up with the mall being a central element of our lives (I can smell the mall in the Chicago suburb where I grew up right now as I type this).
The specific alchemy of the collaborations essential to comics are always a bit clear, but one gets a sense in The Mall #1 that writers Michael Moreci and Gary Dauberman have skillsets that play well with each other. Moreci is a high-concept sci-fi pro, who continues to put on philosophical writerly clinic with the ideas and satires and commentaries he packs into every damn issue of another Vault Comic, the singular and hilarious Wasted Space. His knack for breaking down the central concerns of our times into searing action-heavy (and often humorous) genre stories is all over The Mall #1. But The Mall is a very different kind of comic than Wasted Space.
The Mall #1 is a blend of survival horror and urban apocalyptic dystopia (the 1979 gang warfare film oddity The Warriors is evoked early and often). And there are a number of effective and memorable scenes that are disturbing as all get out, thinking specifically here of an opening sequence in which men wearing mascot heads kidnap a newborn child with a makeshift sledgehammer and a kitchen knife. These horror elements perhaps be traced to Moreci’s co-writer, Gary Dauberman, who fans might know from having penned The Nun, penned/directed The Conjuring Universe film Annabelle Comes Home, and having created the Swamp Thing TV show for DC Universe. In this first issue, the pure horror is doled out sparingly, with the most terrifying elements being that opening scene as well as the status of the world outside and beneath The Mall that gets eluded to. It’s all enough, however, to conjure (sorry!) some horrifying expectations for future issues.
Meanwhile, artist Zak Harton—colored here by Addison Duke, and lettered by Jim Campbell—is also a key part of the success of this comic. He’s really adept at sinister linework, all of which is given complimentary dark and ominous shading by Duke. Harton also has a firm grasp over the claustrophobia elements of this comic, one that comes through in the perspectives of his panel work, so often are they kept to close cropped shots on characters faces, or worm’s eye views at threats as they approach. Harton also plays to my favorite element of this debut issue, the core concept, by throwing excellent background details into his panels here, ranging from sneakers still lining the walls displays as characters are interrogated to the trendy suburban teen outfits for some of the characters that just scream mall chic.
The hints of the main character are a little spare in this first issue—we know he grew up privileged and was somewhat of a pain in the ass, at least according to his father’s rival—and our narrator is mostly kept in the shadows, used for intrigue. The Mall gives us just enough to care about our heroes, though, by virtue of them being outmatched by large groups that are highly motivated to kill them for suspect reasons. And in terms of this being a debut issue, the work of hooking readers is done so well, that I have a hard time imagining anyone who reads this comic in good faith won’t be desperate to come back for a second installment.
Overall: Powered by a mix of claustrophobia, tribalism, and commentary on consumerist culture, The Mall #1 is a genre-defying and entertainingly-tense take on the end of the world. Another hit from Vault Comics. 9.4/10
The Mall #1
Writers: Michael Moreci & Gary Dauberman
Artist: Zak Hartong
Colorist: Addison Duke
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Vault Comics
Release Date: August 28, 2019
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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.