A book as timely as it is fascinating, “Calexit” debuts with an action-packed and thought-provoking first issue. Read on for our review, which contains minor spoilers
Written by Matteo Pizzolo
Illustrated by Amancay Nahuelpan
Colored by Tyler Boss
Lettered by Jim Campbell
What if a fascist, autocratic President took over the United States? And what if that President lost California, the sixth largest economy on Earth, by nearly 2-to-1…a margin of almost 3 1/2 million votes? What if the day after that President took power, the largest mass demonstration in history occurred, and the state with the largest turnout was California. And then, the following week, two of the largest international airports in the world, California’s LAX and SFO, were blockaded by protesters? What if California refused to be ruled? From the creators of YOUNG TERRORISTS, Matteo Pizzolo (GODKILLER) and Amancay Nahuelpan (CLANDESTINO), comes this tale of resisting oppression, punching Nazis, protecting each other, kicking ass, and demanding liberty for all.
“I think one thing we can all agree on is that s**t’s been hurtling into the fan at an accelerated pace lately.” This quote, taken from writer Matteo Pizzolo’s editorial at the back of the issue, aside from being somewhat of a political understatement, goes some way to capturing how a lot of people feel every time they turn on the news. In fact, “Calexit” #1 feels like a book that is not only one or two steps removed from the headlines that dominate and depress, but is only possible because of those news stories. It’s not so much that this series would only work in the climate we’re in now (PIzzolo himself claims that this book was conceived well before the results of last year’s elections,) but the very core of its being is elevated and given a certain weight thanks to the zeitgeist that surrounds it.
It’s a fairly familiar concept. After this election especially, there were mumblings and talks about how California – the sixth largest economy in the world – should secede from the rest of the United States. I don’t think there’s anyone who truly believes it’s as simple as just disconnecting, but it’s certainly something that’s a lot more complex than perhaps the casual observer would understand. That’s partly due to the fact that California’s political spectrum is itself a lot more complex than you may think. Pizzolo, therefore, doesn’t just present a book about California splitting off on its own, but presents a subtle and intricate narrative that attempts to depict the ramifications of such a drastic and controversial act.
“Calexit” #1 starts spinning a lot of plates right from page one. It’s of significant credit to Pizzolo that there aren’t pages upon pages of exposition in order to bring us up to speed – although there are times when that would be useful. Instead, he drops us into this world of vigilante militia, martial law and battleground cities with nothing more than a couple maps and a casual conversation on a radio talk show. From there we’re introduced to a terrifyingly realized villain (a role that Christoph Waltz seems destined to play) and a neutral courier/smuggler that literally and figuratively weaves through the narrative and slowly introduces us to all the major players and political factions. It’s a stunningly well-crafted narrative, one that rewards patience and provides all the necessary answers in a natural, engaging way. By the end of the issue, Jamil the courier is dragged right into the middle of the storm (whether he likes it or not) and we the reader are right there with him.
Artist Amancay Nahuelpan is a master of facial expressions. It’s always a testament to the artist when you can follow a character’s thoughts without reading the words, and that’s certainly true of “Calexit” #1. Jamil is especially entertaining, a man that prides himself on portraying an open, charismatic personality. His expressions and his body language are wonderfully realized and instantly likable. Yes, he crosses the line morally, and yes, by remaining neutral he’s only really serving himself, but he’s a loveable rogue made all the more loveable thanks to Nahuelpan’s effortlessly likable characterization. Similarly, the rest of the cast is distinguishable and engaging in ways that enhance the script in any number of ways.Continued below
Nahuelpan has an intricacy to his linework that allows for background details to take on a life of their own. Multiple times throughout “Calexit” #1 there are jokes behind the action in the foreground. Some highlights to look out for: the mother and daughter at the playground who stumble upon an unfortunate scene, and the tourist taking inappropriate pictures of Wonder Woman. Nahuelpan’s cityscapes are rich and realistic, and there are numerous times in the issue where Pizzolo wisely pulls back his script and allows the art to competently drive the plot.
“Calexit” #1 has to tread a fine line when it comes to its tone. Pizzolo says as much at the back of the issue, but much like how the latest season of House of Cards suffers from a reality that’s rising up to meet it (or sinking down, depending on your viewpoint,) so too does “Calexit” run the risk of being just that bit too ‘real.’ It’s not as if the events of this issue are going to happen in any way close to the way that this fiction portrays, but it’s a book with one foot firmly in the political landscape we’re now living in. It’s a reality that fuels the fires of this series, but it’s also a fire that could burn if not too careful. The simple fact is that there may be some people that just don’t want to face the concepts and ideas being put forward here, at least on paper, so it’s again to the credit of the creators involved that “Calexit” manages to avoid being dragged down by the world we live in and instead provides a story that’s so very entertaining.
The script in “Calexit” #1 is obviously very smart, and the world building here, politically speaking, is rich and complicated without being overwhelming. The characters are built naturally and all have their own agency in terms of voice and motivations that become clear through tightly scripted interactions. There are a few times where the issue could have devolved into a series of talking heads, but Nahuelpan’s art refuses to be pigeon-holed, instead, he provides a fun and involving a structure that deftly keeps a fluid pace through even the more dense areas of the narrative. “Calexit” takes a controversial, complex and relevant concept that is intrinsically woven into our current political landscape, and produces an issue that is smart, funny and richly engaging. It’s a debut that is extremely well crafted, fully realizing its purpose without preaching to or talking down to its audience. This is definitely a book for our times, and one that’s not to be missed.
Final Verdict:9.0 – Thoroughly entertaining, fully engaging and entirely relevant. “Calexit” is an important book that never lets the politics overwhelm the story.