Ladies, gentlemen, people who fit both those groups or neither, we live in exciting times for both aspiring and established artists of every stripe. The internet in its guise as a force for good now allows consumers to support directly films, books, comics etc that might not otherwise see the light of day. of course you are taking a risk every time you donate, but for every "The Sarkeesian Effect" debacle, you get something like Leaving Megalopolis, Gail Simone's 2014 crowd funded tale of a city where all of a sudden, the superheroes turned into sociopathic monsters and the struggles of a rag tag group of survivors as they try and make it out of the city alive. With superb art from Jim Calafiore, we get a very human tale of survival against impossible odds, and like Garth Ennis's The Boys, a chilling reminder of what it might be like for ordinary humans if every superhuman was a villain to a greater or lesser degree. Megalopolis was a safe city because that's where all the super heroes lived and they were heroes who had comics devoted to their escapades so no one was prepared when they turned evil. The horror this book contains give us "heroes" who'd give Kid Miracleman a run for his money in the despicable stakes and some truly heart wrenching stories emerge over the course of the narrative. So successful was the fund raising that not only does it come in a nice hardback package, but has an extra short story, detailed notes on the design of the various characters and did well enough that a sequel called Surviving Megalopolis will be coming out in november. Like all disaster stories, the cause of the disaster is less important than the struggle to retain ones humanity in the face of unbearable hardship, Simone always excels in the humane depiction of people under pressure so lets see just how you go about Leaving Megalopolis.
|Mina and Harold.|
She walks through the empty streets when one of the rogue heroes flying above drops a man close by her to his death. Then a chubby bearded man ventures out of a nearby shop and asks for her help. There is a young woman in there, naked to the waste, crying. He thinks the super heroes did something to her. His name is Harold, the girl is called Lisa.
Mina is very terse with Harold and as Lisa hugs her, orders him to find something for her to wear. Outside are two men one who think that because Mina is a police officer things might be looking up, his name is Michael. The other one, Jeff, thinks it's a trap. They approach Mina's party and she aggressively points a shotgun at them asking what they want. Suddenly a superfast hero called "Fleet" dashes down and rips Jeff's head clean off.
|Fleet beheads Jeff.|
We then get a transcript of what appears to be a Senate investigation into what happened. It seems a toxic cloud appeared over Megalopolis just before the heroes went crazy. Then we get a flashback to Mina as a kid round at her grandma's. She is feeding a raccoon, and her grandmother comes, scolds her for feeding the racoon and tells her it's time to learn how to shoot. Then she gives us Mina's tragic backstory in the form of a lecture:
Grandma: "Never let a man hit you, not once. Stop him however you can. Scratch his eyes out. Blow a hole in him. You take a knife to his pecker, baby you hear me? Because he hits you once, and you go back? No power on earth or in heaven will stop him from hitting you again. End up like your poor mama".
She says Mina's mum forgot the basic rule, "you have got to survive". Young Mina says that's all the raccoon was trying to do.
Back in the present, Michael says that going north which Mina was doing, is a bad idea. The bridge has been sealed off by the heroes and festooned with dead bodies as a warning. Michael is a nurse and says that over the river is a bunker with food and medical supplies, they'd be safe there.
In the present, two heroes fly down to kill the trussed up man who Mina believes has been left as bait. But then "Overlord" the ultimate hero appears and kills the other two, then breaks the tied up mans neck so hard he practically takes his head off. But he doesn't detect Mina's party cowering close by and flies off again.
We then get another transcript which discusses the local head of the National Guard having a shoot on sight policy for people trying to leave the city in case they spread a possible pathogen. Back with Mina's party, they come across a large black woman sitting in a chair by a huge hole in the ground eating egg sandwiches. Her name is Meredith. She says the heroes won't come here because of what came up through the hole.
|Meredit and the mysterious hole.|
Meredith wants to stay where she is, but Lisa convinces her that she should come along even though Meredith thinks she'll slow them down. Mina seems unhappy at this turn of events but accepts the new member of their group as she remembers her new dog climbing onto her bed with her as she says "it doesn't mean I love you, got that?" to it.
As they move on, Harold asks Michael about the man Jeff he was with before. Michael and Jeff had been hanging out at the same coffee shop when the Event occurred. Unfortunately fighting broke out between those holed up in the shop and those wanting to get in. Then Michael tells Harold that he had all the Overlord comics (see below for a sample that proves important later in the story), "... 'til they made him all grim and gritty. I didn't like that. I couldn't read that shit."
|Overlord getting a grimdark reboot|
Suddenly they notice Michael is missing. Two more men appear before them, Mina holds them at gunpoint. The bespectacled man introduces himself as Lukas and his friend is Franklin. He says "the padlock people.. the monsters" have taken Michael. Lukas then relates a very sorry story.
He lived in an apartment block where people were friendly and watched out for each other. Then when the Event occured things changed. Some folk in the block realised that if they left "sacrifices" tied up outside every few hours, the heroes would kill them and leave the rest alone. First of all they picked on all the people who hadn't quite fitted in, then finally started grabbing people off the street. Lukas realised it was an appalling thing they were doing after they poisoned his dog for making too much noise and attracting attention. Michael is the latest bait.
|Lukas tells of superhero collusion.|
Mina: "I'm a fucking guard at the mall...there was a cop car in the west lot outside the mall. One of them showed up, Cupid. He killed the lady cop inside. Laughed. Said she was good sport. I took her uniform. I took her guns".
She says she didn't want to be raped by looters, she can't protect Michael, "I can't protect anything".
Harold demands one of her guns. If she won't go back for Michael he will. Mina says that's certain death, but Harold won't stand down. Lisa meekly says they won't make it to the bridge anyway. Then Red Flame, the hero being supplied with victims swoops past them. Mina finally realises she can't stand by and see someone burned alive like her mother was and they go back.
We then get a flashback to young Mina in tears holding the dead body of the racoon she befriended that her dog killed. She rages at the dog and her grandmother for getting it for her, then tears over her situation overwhelm her and she sobs "I don't want to be anymore".
Michael has been tied to a lamp post and the leader of the building's pack is trying to torture information about where the rest of his group were headed. Michael manages to stutter out a "fuck you". Red Flame arrives and says:
Red Flame: "I like this. I like this so much. The way you turn on each other. You barely even need us to hunt you down. Fear makes you destroy yourselves. Weak".
As he goes to kill Michael, Mina comes up behind and points a shotgun at his head point blank. "Chaz says hello" she says and then blows his head off.
Another flashback to Mina as an adult post coital with her boyfriend Chaz. He says he'd love to have a child with her, but this freaks her out a bit and she goes into the sitting room and has a flashback in a flashback of the day her father did the terrible thing to her mum.
Back in the present and they make it to the bridge. But there is a huge hole in it. Before they can start to work there way round it, Lisa starts buzzing something. When asked what she is doing, she turns and grins that it's her "Mite Brigade signal device" and she is calling her friends to this location. She is a superhero!
|Lisa reveals her true self.|
Visua: "All we feel is pain. And killing one of you..? Makes that pain go away. Makes us happy for a while. Hunting you is sport. And I get to be decoy!".
She grabs Harold and says she's going to burn him first, but he headbutts her in the face. As she backs off, Mina sees a racoon on the other side of the bridge and realises what she has to do.
She tackles Visua and hurls both of them off the bridge. Harold catches hold of Mina and Visua has hold of her. Before Mina can be pulled up, Visua uses her powers to burn his hand and force him to drop her and Mina into the river. Harold, Meredith and Michael can only look down in silent sadness at this turn of events.
Then they carefully make their way round the hole in the bridge. It looks like they might have escaped finally. Until that is, Overlord appears. He says "one of you has to die. Choose." All three volunteer, so Overlord chooses Michael. He makes him kneel in front of him and is about to crush his head when Michael recites the words from the comic page earlier in the story about Overlord's origins. This gets through to Overlord when nothing else could.
Overlord: "I can't save you. Too much dark between universes. Universe of empty rage."
Then more heroes appear, wanting to know what he's waiting for. With more prodding from Michael, Overlord turns on the other heroes and starts fighting with them, screaming to the three survivors "Runnn! The darkness is coming back!"
|Michael the comicbook nerd gets through to Overlord.|
Finally we get another flashback showing Mina and Chaz at their job as mall security. He asks her to think it over about having kids, then there is an earthquake. Chaz wants to check to see people are alright and Red Flame appears. Chaz says it's OK, "the good guys are here". And Red Flame fries him. Then we cut to Visua/Lisa surfacing in the river pleased at her survival. But she is shot through the head by Mina who also survived. The book ends with Mina, armed only with a water-sodden pistol, facing down a group of super heroes calmly and without fear.
|Mina's last stand..?|
With this book, I am so pleased I am able to put Gail Simone in my top five of comicbook authors (if you're interested it goes: Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Brian K Vaughn and Gail Simone). She has a lot in common with Ennis is some respects, both write with a fierce sense of humanity and can create compellingly sympathetic characters with the broadest of brushes. Actually this story has me feeling sorry for the superheroes, unlike the selfish, venal monsters of The Boys, these heroes were genuinely trying to do what was right. When the city was attacked by the eldritch thing, they fought it and won, yet it changed them through no fault of their own. Overlord's torment at the end shows that the heroic core is still in there, but has been overwhelmed by aggression and rage and the need to kill to try and placate those feelings. Mina is a fascinatingly spikey protagonist whose heightened sense of self preservation plays well off the more traditionally heroic Harold. Simone gets two great reveals in, first that Mina isn't really a cop and second, the genuinely shocking reveal that Lisa is a "hero" whose been playing them. Letting them get within a stones throw of freedom for her own sick pleasure, never has a bullet to the head been more deserved. Jim Califore's art is nice and crisp, with some excellent and original designs for the heroes that makes them more than just knock-offs of Marvel and DC standards. A lot of thought was put into the look of all the characters and the art notes make for a fascinating read and a real insight into what you get when artist and writer are on the same page. I shall definitely be checking out the sequel now at any rate. A triumph for 21st century fund raising.