The post apocalypse is a setting that I’ve always found fascinating, and while there are some great examples of the genre such as the classic Mad Max movies or the recent television series The 100, a lot of it ends up kind of blending together. Toss in some football pads and cannibals, maybe some zombies and you have yourself a stock “end of the world” scenario. A lot of this stuff gets boring when you see it all the time, but that only makes the great examples even greater. It’s for this reason that ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times shines as a breathe of fresh air into the genre.
Written and illustrated by Andrew MacLean, ApocalyptiGirl follows Aria and her cat Jelly Beans as they traverse a post apocalyptic landscape. We get a glimpse into their every day life as they explore the world, follow mysterious beacons, and attempt to fix an old busted up mech suit that Aria has nicknamed, Gus. While looking into her current state of affairs, she explains through some cleverly handled narration how the world came to be the way it is and what else may be lurking in these parts as well. They’re not alone, and tensions begin to rise as they butt heads with the locals more and more.
While the plot here is relatively straightforward, the things that really sell the book are the main character and the tone. Aria is a likable and intriguing protagonist that remains surprisingly upbeat in the face of adversity, though isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty when the need arises. She lies somewhere between Tank Girl and Korra in this regard. This personality oozes into every aspect of the book and we really see this world through her eyes because of it. She exists within a dead world, but it’s not so far gone that all hope is lost. This post apocalypse is one that takes place so far after the end that Mother Nature has begun to reclaim the empty cities and lush plant life has regrown. It’s gorgeous to look at and it’s the kind of “end of the world” that reminds me of some of the environments from the video game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Despite this, Aria’s life is a struggle for survival and there is a real loneliness to this existence. You can see it in the way she talks to her cat as if it’s her boyfriend, or even the way she nicknames the mech suit that she’s attempting to get operational. You can definitely see it in how she talks back to her own narration as if it were another character. I really enjoy this kind of storytelling because it’s complex, but it’s subtle. The narrative is simple, but the execution is deep.
MacLean’s artwork is another major draw to the book (no pun intended). It’s not the typical comic art style that you’d find in the likes of Marvel and DC, but it fits right at home with a lot of the indie titles that have been coming out in the past ten years or so. It’s cartoony, but highly detailed when the need arises, and with an absolutely gorgeous color palette. MacLean really has an eye for composition and every panel feels alive. He jam packs a lot of personality into every facial expression and gesture from Aria and the environments all feel like they have a storied past. It’s amazing to look at the differences between some of the more somber moments and the action scenes that take place later on because of how different they are. Despite its’ lighter tone, it doesn’t shy away from the violence at all. When someone or something gets shot or has their arm severed the blood flies. This never feels gratuitous however, and only serves to bring some much needed gravity and impact to these moments. There’s some pretty graphic stuff, but it always feels appropriate.
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times. This is Andrew MacLean’s first graphic novel, appearing previously in Dark Horse Presents and his own self-published comic, Headlopper and now having read this I’m excited to check out these other titles as well. He has a clear vision and an eye for storytelling and composition as well as a knack for world building and tone. ApocalyptiGirl is a great example of a simple story and premise handled with care and presented in a way that gives the narrative emotional depth and a subtle complexity. Simply put, this is just a really solid book and you should check it out immediately. ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times will be available June 2, 2015 through Dark Horse.