You’ve got a friendo in me. Doo dooo doo doo. You’ve got a friendo in me. Buy some more stuff and, you will see, oh, you’ve got a friendo in me.
Written by Alex Paknadel
Illustrated by Martin Simmonds
Colored by Dee Cunniffe
Lettered by Taylor Esposito
It’s time to request a clean-up on aisle seven as Leo and Jerry’s attempt to rob a hypermarket goes stomach-churningly wrong. Luckily, a mysterious corporate benefactor is on hand to help them with a new mission and an offer they can’t refuse. Meanwhile, the owner of the hypermarket chain is in no mood to put up with Leo and Jerry’s antics. Enter ‘Zajíc the Cremator’, a brutal assassin with a predilection for bunny ear headbands. Leo and Jerry’s lives are about to become a whole lot more complicated.
The initial concept of “Friendo” was an intriguing and novel extrapolation of our current world but issue one failed to give a solid reason to care about our wayward main character nor did it fully establish the stakes of the story. It was an issue that felt like all set-up, which is fine, as the premise itself carried enough to get me to issue two, which kicked our story into high-gear, moving it far away from any of the expectations of issue one and delivering on a completely different narrative. Now, the tangle of plots is only getting more dense, as Leo finds himself at rock bottom, which is the perfect place to be picked up by the worst of the bottom-feeders.
This is a comic all about agency in a late-stage capitalist economy wherein you are the product, the advertisements, and the consumer all at once, namely, the lack of any. Nothing Leo does matters. Trapped in a system that actively encourages, enables and virtually forces him to embrace his worst impulses, he is passed from the parasitic relationship with Jerry to jail to his lawyer to being conscripted into becoming an online celebrity. He is never given the choice of saying no, even when he technically had the “choice.” The only thing he does that actually has an effect is the shooting of the bird from the start.
Once you push past the sleek aesthetic Simmonds and Cunniffe have crafted, the book reveals itself as deeply unsettling; trading the grunge of “Transmetropolitan” for the silicon valley, preserving the same oppressive atmosphere. It’s a thin veneer but the contrast between the look and the feel works wonders.
Hell, “Friendo #3 opens on Leo pissing himself as he robs a store for a toy that no longer exists due to it being poisoned and later, Simmonds spends an entire page dedicated to showing us the latest marketing stunt for the “Friendo” universe’s twelfth Fast and the Furious movie.
Like something out of a horror movie, Simmonds silhouettes the man as he crawls from the flaming wreckage of his car, three small panels overlaid between two larger ones, Esposito’s lettering small and slanted, conveying the agony but also the conviction of the advertisement. Simmonds then pulls back to reveal the face of the man, melting and destroyed, his brain visible, his ear barely attached. Cunniffe’s coloring choices adds to the sickening look of his flesh and the intensity of the fire behind him. The kicker to the scene, Leo is disturbed while it barely registers for his nameless lawyer.
All is not perfect, unfortunately. The same stylizations that make the above scene work so well hurt the comic in other places. The panel right before the aforementioned scene is supposed to be covered in smoke but because of the coloring, the highway appears to be in shadow with the smoke coming from the car Leo is in, instead of that being the trail his car cut through the smoke. Moreover, regular people always have this melting look to them, like the inking was unsteady. This is especially noticeable in a pair of panels on the second page of the Mississippi scene. Looking up at the Cornutopia owner, it’s impossible to tell where his chin ends and his neck begins as there is very little shadowing and the inking is too sparse to create a distinct dividing line.Continued below
This works when showing a character in pain or for creating an unsettling mood, wherein the world doesn’t seem right, but not for the more mundane aspects of the narrative, when the actions should take precedence. Simmond’s eye for paneling and layout more than makes up for this, breaking up action in clever ways and creating borderless panels that are only marked by the path of a bird. Every angle chosen adds something to the page, telling us about the world, the characters or building the mood despite some of the other shortcomings.
At the end, “Friendo” #3 leaves us with a terrifying thought, one that is omnipresent throughout the comic: how little do people matter to those in power? Peppered all throughout “Friendo,” from the final scene with the owner of Cornutopia to the The Manufacturer, Inc. lawyer’s driving and treatment of Leo to others on the road Zajieck the Cremator’s bar murder scene, this question hounds us and presents us with the grim reality that they simply don’t. There is a casual disregard for life throughout the comic and it is always framed as horrific and, sometimes, darkly, disturbingly comedic.
This is not, at the moment at least, a story about fighting a society that positions people as commodities but instead about a schmuck who has found himself wrapped up in a corporate game, shackled to an AI that takes a fake(?) bullet for him in order to, presumably, guilt trip him into spending more. But with the care the “Friendo” team has put into this story, I bet there is something more to Jerry and his relationship to Leo than we are getting at the moment, and that ambiguity has me thoroughly engaged.
Final Score: 7.7 – Despite the unintentional melting faces, “Friendo” #3 continues put a fun-house mirror to today in intriguing, new and messed up ways. It twists and turns without ever feeling cheap, I can’t even begin to imagine what is going to come next. . .and that is exciting.