Review: Romantically Apocalyptic

It’s all got a bit comicsy in Womblevonia. I don’t think of myself as someone who reads a lot of webcomics, but these days, it seems I do, and slowly, by following links from one to another, I get introduced to more. In this case, Coelasquid, who writes the awesome Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, mentioned on her tumblr that she was up against Romantically Apocalyptic in ComicMix’s March Madness Webcomic Tournament. I poked my nose over, always happy to support those who give me pleasure, but I thought, ‘No, I will be a good girl and check out the competition, rather than just voting on bias’. So I clicked the link and went over to Romantically Apocalyptic, and…

Oh my goodness.

Wallpaper for Romatically Apocalyptic: The Captain and his mug, in front of a blasted landscape.

This is a wallpaper made by the creators for use in promotion, so I'm sure they won't mind me posting it here. Click through to view full size.

I’ve just never seen art this stunning in a comic before, and it happens to concern one of my very favourite things: apocalypse. I’d say they made it just for me, except that one of its few flaws is a certain lack of women. Not that I’m going to press that complaint too strongly. It’s doing a number of interesting things with gender, one of which is that the main* character’s gender is ambiguous. More on that later, first, let me tell you a little more of what it’s about.

The Captain and his (or her) two gas-masked companions, Pilot and Mr Snippy, are three of the last human beings left on Earth. The story unfolds slowly. At first we are introduced only to the Captain and his/her companions, who seem content to wander the wastelands, finding what enjoyment they can in the end of the world. The Captain doesn’t appear entirely sane, and Pilot seems even less so, but in the absence of other companionship, Snippy appears content to follow the Captain’s deranged but faultlessly optimistic lead. Slowly, though, the seemingly random and amusing events of their lives start to fit together and reveal elements of the past: how the world got to be this way, and how three such unlikely companions would come to spend what’s left of their lives in this way.

The revelation of back story is catalysed by the advent of an alien spaceship, which attempts to abduct Snippy and the Captain, but proves ultimately unable to face up to the force of nature the Captain comprises. In retaliation, the aliens send out Biomass 117, which the Captain takes to be Cancer, summoned by a handbag s/he found that supposedly contains cancer-causing chemicals. In an attempt to better understand the Captain, Biomass 117 captures Snippy and starts absorbing his memories, and through this, we learn, also, what has happened.

Not wanting to spoil too much, I shall merely say that what is revealed is fascinating and still incomplete. I can’t wait to see how the rest unfolds. The Captain is enigmatic and fabulous, whilst poor benighted Snippy manages to effectively garner one’s sympathy. The mixture of joy and desolation is quite compelling, and the slowly unfurling plot reveals a world that only becomes weirder and more interesting as time goes on.

And I really can’t praise the artwork enough. Photographs of models in real places are blended seamlessly with digital artwork in what has clearly been a labour of love that goes above and beyond what one would usually expect of a humble webcomic (although I know that even the humblest of these generally take much longer to produce than many people realise). Employing models whose identity is anonymised by the gas-masks they wear also adds an interesting twist. Gender remains ambiguous until confirmed by story elements. We see Mr Snippy in the past, and know him to be male, but even in the past the Captain’s features are hidden from us. We have only the reactions of those around him or her to go on. Most refer to the Captain as male, but s/he is also taken to be a girl in a flashback to his or her childhood. Moreover, the character is reputedly modeled by both men and women, and the main model is female. I quite like that this is ambiguous, and although part of me naturally wants to know, I rather hope that it remains so. It would be great to have a character like this – all excentric enigmatic charisma and easy command – that was female, but it would be equally wonderful to have a charismatic and commanding male character whose favourite object was a mug with a giant red heart on it and who is as happy to carry around a Hello Kitty handbag as a bomb.

Incidentally, if you’re not into romance, do not be put off by the title. There is some hint that the comic is romantic in the sense of taking a romanticising aesthetic on the apocalypse, more than anything else, although it is clear that Pilot has feelings of some description for the Captain, and the creepy super-computer, Annie, (which may have helped cause the destruction of everything) seems to feel some twisted kind of affection for the engineer, Alexander Gromov. It may be that romance is on the cards somewhere down the line, but what is clear for now is that things are only just getting going. I can’t wait to see where it goes next, and in the meantime, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And, in case I haven’t convinced you yet, one of my favourite sequences, for your delectation:

Page 7 of Romantically Apocalyptic.

The only trouble now is that I can’t decide on my vote for March Madness…

*Although, as time goes on I’m half convinced that Snippy is the true protagonist.

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