Review: The Few #6

TheFew-06_cvr.jpgAfter her long journey of self-discovery, after they’ve taken everything from her, Edan Hale has turned on the Palace and infiltrates its city to strike a devastating blow, but Captain Jariks is waiting for her. As for Peter and Davey, they have learned the truth of Edan’s past and her tie to their younger sister. They must decide if she is still worth befriending or too far down the path of destruction. It’s a bloody, epic conclusion to one of the best series of 2017.

Before I go into the review, I want to say how much fun it has been reading and reviewing this series. Out of all the books currently in the direct market, The Few exemplifies the most of what comics as a medium can be, visually outstanding, narratively gripping, and sharply political. I plan on rereading this series again and again. If I ever do a list of Top Comics of 2017, this will be going somewhere up in the top 5. I thank Sean Lewis, Hayden Sherman, and Image Comics for having the smarts to create and publish this powerful dystopian scifi.

The fun begins with the cover, Edan striking a badass pose as she faces the Palace with a gun in hand. It also works thematically as a representation of Edan going turncoat, abandoning the home and values she once upheld with brutal force. She now plans on tearing it all down. Even more significant are the sentences on the back cover:

“A Hero To One.

“A Terrorist To Another.

“A Necessity To Herself.”

There is that word again, “necessity.” Throughout the series, it has been a dangerous concept justifying horrific actions. However, what this back cover suggests is that it can be more complex than that. It depends on the viewpoint of the judge. Actions can be justified, unjustified, or even both. This happens to be the thematic climax of Edan’s character arc.

As always with each chapter, there is a quote by a famous author/figure in history:

“As you get older it’s harder to have heroes. It’s almost more necessary.”

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Ernest Hemingway said that, and I think he means that people develop higher standards for who they consider a hero. They’re needed for better results. Now, does that mean Edan reaches the standard? Probably depends on your own. Personally, I think she becomes both.

The book opens to a two page spread of The Palace at night. It’s a sprawling black and white metropolis with a gray aerial tone. This is an interesting visualization given that Sherman colored the Palace mostly red in the previous issue. I think this change in color has meaning in perspective. From the previous issue, the perspective was that of Captain Jariks, a person who despite knowing her country’s flaws still regards it highly. In this issue, the perspective is that of Edan as indicated by the narrative captions. As someone that has turned against the Palace, the black and white coloring mirrors her cold disdain for it.

This opening spread is but one of the many examples of how much an art beast Hayden Sherman is. His style reminiscent of Frank Miller and punkzines that at first looks simplistic but becomes more complex and detailed the closer you look. The coloring plays a big factor here. Sherman is not representing reality but presenting ideas, adding a striking layer to visually represent the themes of the story. Also, they just look cool, especially during fight scenes. There’s a scene where red moves around with the combatants like an amoeba. In another fight, a 14-panel grid(!!!) switches back and forth between red/black and light/dark gray. Never in a moment does the art look dull in this book.

Going back to the opening spread, the true beauty of Sherman’s art is how it heightens Sean Lewis’ story, particularly dialogue and narration:

“My dear Palace. Bustling streets. Tall buildings. Home. We’ve been doing this dance for a while, friend. And tonight it ends.”

I hate the “We’ve been doing this dance” part of the paragraph. It’s a cliche done too many times in action stories and smudges the graveness of Edan’s statement. She is reminiscing about the Palace yes, but in a way to indicate she no longer sees it as her home. Combined with Sherman’s  dark art, it’s apparent Edan has nothing but cold disdain for the Palace. She is determined to do something to it for revenge. This can be interpreted without seeing Edan’s face. Never before have I seen a collaborative work where the writer and artist takes full of advantage of comics ability to combine text and image for deeper thematic meaning.

On one hand, this vendetta is justifiable given previous events. The reader feels for Edan and is cheering her on. I certainly was ready to watch her kick the Palace’s ass. Then I flipped to the next page and those feelings got complex.

The scene transitions to the Few’s campsite. Edan has made a dirty bomb, which shocked me as an American because of how strongly associated that weapon is with terrorism. Edan narrates that she has plans to cause massive damage on the Palace with it. She does not specify who the targets are. In fact, she does not seem to care about differentiating between military, government, or civilians. Edan’s revelation that the Palace are bad, while an important part of her development, has a dark consequence to it. Edan hasn’t become more empathetic. She simply has changed the target of her brutality. This is not portrayed as a good thing. The Few see that Edan is more violent than ever and keep their distance. She realizes this and decides to go alone. Her isolation represented by a blizzard as she disappears into.

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What’s amazing about this turn is that I still feel Edan’s justified. After all, the Palace have to be stopped. At the same time though I feel wary how hate has consumed her. It doesn’t get much better as Edan infiltrates the Palace during a festival and plots her attack with the specific goal of hurting them in a way that makes a statement. Just like the dirty bomb, I can’t help but associate this line of thinking with terrorism. It’s a mode of thinking that doesn’t take into consideration civilian harm. What happens if a person whose only sin is just happening to be born in the Palace gets stuck in the crossfire? The comic has no qualms siding with those that fight for their survival against oppressive regimes, but it becomes murky when attacks have no motivation except hate.

There is a happy ending (well, happy enough), but the comic never lets go of complexity. Even more challenging is the idea that complexity is a necessary part of freedom fighting. Edan does her best to make her target but the destruction she causes could lead to civilian casualties. Minimal perhaps, but still possible.

Bringing up history, I don’t think there is a single armed rebellion where there weren’t innocent casualties. The American Revolution, the Soviet Revolution, etc. In many cases, these revolutions would be overshadowed by later atrocities committed by the new regime. Even in peaceful revolutions, innocents are killed. I think the ending of The Few is a way of forcing the reader to face this issue. Edan has become a freedom fighter instead of an oppressor, she is fighting the good fight with the right people, but has to live with collateral damage. Like the back cover of the issue says, hero to one, terrorist to another. In the end, a necessity to herself and the world because who else is going to stand up to the Palace?

One of the flaws to this otherwise outstanding character arc is how it takes development away from other characters. Peter, Davey, and Captain Jariks are full of potential, but rarely fleshed out. The most disappointing is Captain Jariks, who earlier in the series got upset learning how the Palace had a hand in creating Herrod, a blood-thirsty militia leader. In #6, her complexity disappears and she reverts to being an unquestioning loyalist. Peter and Davey at least get a little more growth when having to make a decision regarding Edan. The dialogue exchanged between them is an intense emotional journey. The Few manages to have strong drama along with its striking visuals.

What stands out to me most about the series is its political relevancy. We have a comic about an oppressive, ultranationalist regime that views a group of outsiders as immoral leeches that only want to destroy them and take their belongings, a wall built to keep non-natives out, brutal police that don’t mind gunning down even children if they profile them as a threat, a roaming gang of sociopathic men that find pleasure in the pain and misery they cause others, a small group of diverse rebels fighting desperately for survival while finding it hard to trust each other and worried that they could become the thing they oppose. This is Trump’s America as it is now, albeit an extreme fictional version. I don’t know if it was Sean Lewis’ intent or not, but there is no way of avoiding the similarities. I see this series in two ways: At it’s best, it is a cautionary tale of what will happen to America if we do not unite and work out our issues. At it’s most frightening, it is a prediction of what is going to happen years from now, and those on the left or at least against ultranationalist, xenophobic regimes will need to be ready for the inevitable war. I think many of us can agree we hope the former happens. But more and more each day, envisioning the latter as becoming a necessity.

Visually, narratively, and politically charged, The Few #6 is a satisfying conclusion. There are some turns that seem too convenient or easily achieved, but it does not dampen the raw, visceral reading experience. It is a series that I can say for certain goes beyond entertainment and enters the realm of true literature. I recommend this to anyone that is yearning for relevant scifi comics or relevant scifi in general.

Story: Sean Lewis Art: Hayden Sherman
Story: 9.5 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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