BALLISTIC, 2013’s gonzo dysmorphic sci-fi headtrip by Adam Egypt Mortimer and Darick Robertson, has been republished in a handy-dandy easy-to-carry collected edition by Black Mask Studios. If you missed it the first time around, now’s your chance to pick it up. And you should. You really, REALLY should.
It’s the future and multiple natural disasters, economic collapse and a metric truckload of disease have all taken their toll on the planet. The world as we know it is long gone. In its place is a new world order, one of rampant biotechnology the likes of which would make H.R. Giger green with envy. Everything from vehicles to architecture is built from DNA-infused technology. It’s here that we are introduced to Butch and Gun. Butch is an air-conditioner repairman with delusions of criminal grandeur. Gun is… well, his gun: a fleshy, wise-ass bio-organic weapon with a face and a serious drug problem. Butch wants to be a criminal like his idol, John Dillinger (whom he references very frequently) and thinks he’s found the “big score” in robbing a bank. Unfortunately, that’s as far as Butch’s plans go. You see, Butch is a bit of a dim-bulb. So, needless to say, things go horribly wrong, leaving Butch and Gun on the run from a wide-ranging group of pissed-off parties.
Ballistic’s baseline plot is simple enough – criminal plans heist, heist goes pear-shaped, criminal goes on the run. But that’s not the reason you should be reading it – although it is a riot. To use an artsy-fartsy kind of analogy, it’s not about the linework, but the colours and textures.
Back in its heyday, Vertigo Comics was home to some of the most mind-bending, hallucinogenic works to appear in four-colour format. It was in titles like DOOM PATROL, SHADE THE CHANGING MAN, and TRANSMETROPOLITAN, spearheaded by ambitious (and now revered) madmen like Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan and Warren Ellis. It was an era of go-for-broke-anything-goes-free-for-all where no idea was too bizarre for publication. The appeal of many of these titles (for me, anyways) was the insane and meticulous world-building. And that era’s DNA (a fitting analogy) is deeply ingrained in BALLISTIC’s biological make-up. Cars with membranous batwings, flesh-eating viral pornography, biologically-based and sentient housing. It wears its inspirations on its sleeve – the rubber-reality of William Burroughs, the fleshly mutations of David Cronenberg and the trippy metaphysics of Grant Morrison – and it wears them with pride.
It doesn’t hurt that this world’s been visualized by THE BOYS’ Darick Robertson. An old-hand at world-building in his collaboration with Warren Ellis on TRANSMETROPOLITAN, Robertson produces what might just be the best work of his career so far. The landscapes, technology and characters, bristling with all manner of fleshy and meaty bio-organic accoutrements and modifications, pop off the page in gorgeous layouts and vibrant colour. Malignant flesh never looked so good.
Now, there have been a lot comparisons in the press to another recent indie darling, SAGA, but this is a surface evaluation at best. SAGA, while trippy and subversive (and also awesome), is a much more accessible book. BALLISTIC will be an acquired taste for some, and not everyone will dig it. And that’s okay. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, nor should it be. One of the admirable things about Black Mask Studios is the chances they’re taking with their line-up and BALLISTIC is a prime example of their “out in left field” stable. If you’re willing and able, it’s worth the demented spin.