Frank Barbiere is a creator that has taken incredible strides in the past few years – “Five Ghosts” #1 came out 26 months ago, and now the guy is seemingly all over comics. “Broken World” is his new miniseries at BOOM!, and the tone and execution are both quite different than what we’ve seen from Barbiere in the past. Keep reading for a spoiler-free review of the debut issue, which drops June 3.
Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Illustrated by Christopher Peterson
What’s to Love: We’re thrilled to publish the one new original series co-created and written by Frank J. Barbiere (Five Ghosts, Avengers World) in 2015. Broken World is a gripping sci-fi thriller and survival adventure great for fans of Y: The Last Man or The Massive. Barbiere and co-creator/artist Christopher Peterson (Grindhouse, Mayday) will explore the lives of people left behind in the apocalypse.
What It Is: With a meteor days away from causing an extinction-level event on Earth, time is running out for Elena Marlowe. While most of the planet’s population and her family were approved by the government to escape on one of the giant spaceships headed to another planet, her application was denied due to her mysterious past. With the meteor fast approaching, Elena tries desperately to find a way to fake her way onto the last ship or else be left behind to die with the rest of Earth’s rejected denizens.
Just last week, “Arcadia” #1 came out from BOOM!, and that book makes for an interesting point of reference when talking about “Broken World.” “Arcadia” is all about people reacting to a tragedy – a deadly virus is destroying most of the world’s population, and so their brains are scanned and uploaded to a Matrix-like mainframe. “Broken World,” on the other hand, is all about preparing for a tragedy before it happens.
A meteor is headed towards Earth, and Pax, an organization dedicated to saving the citizens of the world, is setting up ships, via a space elevator, to bring people into a state of suspended animation, until they can be placed on a new homeland. The story is focused on Elena Marlowe, a mother, professor, and former criminal, who is desperately trying to get on one of those ships with her son and husband.
We have no idea what Elena has done to be on considered ‘unworthy’ for the trip into space, but we meet her getting a forged passport, being made by Fletcher, a person who is not going to get in one of the ships, either by choice or by circumstance. This scene with Fletcher is the most awkward of the book, as it has to let us download an enormous amount of knowledge so that the rest of the story can take place. So, Fletcher is watching the most comprehensive news piece ever, which manages to not only give the important updates, but also the entire history of the meteor and its path. He also schools Elena in his own ethical problem with a government that uses permanent records as a litmus test for salvation. The clunkiness of the scene is necessary, because these are important points, but it still reads as a bit stilted.
Barbiere’s script, from here on out, is all three or four layers deep. Every person left on Earth 2 days before impact has an agenda, whether that is party-line propaganda (husband Brian), forced distraction (student Emma), or zealous anger (the protestors). Every line of dialogue has its actual words, its intended meaning, and the meaning as filtered through the listener’s biases. Even small sentences take on multiple meanings, and re-reads reveal some truly rich conversations between characters.
This is filtered through Peterson’s clean line and subdued artwork. Peterson’s restraint here is absolutely perfect, as he is able to show people desperately trying to keep their shit together, despite the apocalypse looming around the corner. Towards the end of the issue, the seams begin to show, and the characters all start losing their cool at alarming rates. This is why the first half of the issue needed to be so restrained, so that when hell breaks loose, it visually matters.Continued below
Elena is the best example of this – the only times we see her smiling in the entire issue are when she is with Danny, her son – with him, she is all smiles, partly because he obviously brings her incredible happiness, but also because she has to remain optimistic for him. We see her smirk in class, and put on a fakely huge smile when passing a checkpoint, but the only real joy in her life is Danny. Peterson is able to show the reader how stressed out she is, but does so in a way that the characters she interacts with have no idea, beyond the normal “the world is ending” sort of stress.
Everyone in this book is walking on eggshells, and because of that, there are truly emotional moments everywhere you look: a student whose parents are part of the suicide cult “The Children of the Revelation,” who flips out on another student’s dismissal of their beliefs, protesters who aren’t deemed savable attacking a school, simply because it is run by the Pax corporation, even soldiers being on hair triggers because of the stress of both doing their jobs and being safely escorted off the planet. The powder keg atmosphere makes the book a tense read, but a gripping one.
The last act of this issue is a doozy, and I’m not going to say anything here about it, other than it raises far more questions than it answers, and it sets the course for the rest of the miniseries in a stunning fashion. Barbiere and Peterson set up relatively standard tropes, and then drive trucks directly through them, allowing a far more interesting, sad, and worthwhile story to drive pass between the walls of expectation.
Final Verdict: 8.3 – “Broken World” gets off to a fine start, and continues to establish Barbiere and Peterson as creators to watch.
“Broken World” is available for pre-order until the end of the day today, using the Diamond Code APR151199.