By Zack Quaintance — Around halfway through Friendo #4, our heroes (maybe that’s not the right word) are listening to local news radio describe their exploits as they drive a shiny red convertible through the desert. The radio essentially sums up the status quo, which has shifted seismically since Friendo’s first issue. It’s a nice storytelling device, one that does a good job taking stock of both where we are and how crazy Friendo has gotten. At one point, the voice on the radio says: Whole saga’s turned into this Looney-Tunes three-ring circus if you ask me.
That’s a pretty accurate summation, really, for writer Alex Paknadel’s plotting of Friendo, but I think there’s also subtext about the book’s central theme: that late-model capitalism has gone so off the rails, that we maybe don’t realize how bananas life has gotten in this country. The voice continues: The guardrails are gone, man. It’s all just a big joke now. There’s nothing between us and the jagged rocks below. I had to just hang my head for a moment, because got-damn.
This thematic ground has been well covered throughout Friendo. So much so I think the central thrust of the book is showing its audience we’re maybe not even at rock bottom of all this, that with a society so thoroughly dominated by sales, marketing, corporations, etc., things can and will always get crazier, get more manipulative and exploitative. That there is, in effect, no end, no upper ceiling to the limits of greed inherent to unbridled capitalism. This story, in essence, is slowly upping the malarkey on its pages to match the point it’s making about our lives. If it’s all a big joke, the radio voice posits, then how are we supposed to know when to stop laughing?
Whether I’ve phrased it that way or not (I haven’t), this is a crisis that has shaped my life for a decade, first while coming of age during the recession, again while clawing toward some sort of financial balance, and now while working multiple day jobs and passion pursuits with big questions looming, like: will it ever be enough? Will I ever be able to afford a house? Would it be nuts to have a child? This all adds up to Friendo—as I’ve written in pretty much all my reviews—being a different, more realistic sort of horror story.
As this is the fourth straight issue that has posited such questions (albeit previously with less intensity), this begs the question of whether this comic is at risk of feeling repetitive. I certainly don’t think so. Part of why has to do with the nature of the plot being about limitless absurdity, about extrapolating extreme ideas to new places. It’s not repetitive because the same ideas are being push juuuuust a bit further every week, stretching into new ground. The second reason Friendo #4 succeeds is it’s so well told by its creators.
Paknadel’s scripting is hilarious (Not kinky, just sad), and Martin Simmonds art has accelerated, packing more into panels as the plot calls for it, augmented fantastically by Dee Cunniffe’s vibrant colors. Another thing Simmonds has done well is the evolving design of the humanized marketing hologram Jerry, who has become more unhinged, more gory and grindhouse and sinister just as his user, Leo, has become sloppier and rundown and frazzled. There’s a two page spread in this issue, filled with art conveying the changes afflicting them both, with Leo chomping a donut as Jerry (with a hole blown in him and guts visible) climbing the wall like a feral demon. The spread is interspersed with detailed shots and Taylor Esposito’s clean lettering, all coming together in a visual—and a comic—that really lingers.
Overall: Friendo #4 continues searching for the absurd upper limits of unrestrained capitalism and still doesn’t find it. Whenever this book seems to reach a new extreme of exploitation, greed, or dehumanization, it pushes it just a bit further, finding new and scarier ground. Simply put, do not miss this comic. 9.2/10
Writer: Alex Paknadel
Artist: Martin Simmonds
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: Vault Comics
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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.