Crowded has always been a comic where everything is turned to 11, constantly. That’s thanks to the witty and occasionally sentimental writing of Christopher Sebela, the high energy art of Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, and the varied colors of Triona Farrell. This high tension applies to action sequences, dramatic backstory reveals, and especially the feelings between the two lead characters. Charlie is the so-called normal girl with a price on her head via crowdfunding app Reapr and Vita is the bodyguard hired via Dfender. Crowded #12 is no exception. Charlie and Vita conspire to break out of the survivalist-meets-MLM cult missile silo they’re trapped in and talk about their emotions too.
Weirdly enough, Crowded has turned into a romance comic in its second year. The unlikely lustfest/romance between Charlie and Vita has really taken center stage. It’s fitting that we get a sepia-colored flashback of their first time making out and sleeping together. I love how Stein and Brandt include Dog’s reaction to their activities. He wanders around the frame eventually finding some nice cheese puffs to munch on. The active nature of their artwork with all kinds of gestures, background jokes, or interesting things to look at along with the contrasting color stories that Farrell created keeps the tense, “will they, won’t they” nature of Charlie and Vita’s relationship an ongoing concern as the plot moves along.
Sebela does this too through his writing. He uses a relatively “quiet” scene of Vita and Charlie preparing to leave the missile silo into the closest thing they’ve had to heart to heart for a while. Their conversation while prepping guns and a big-ass parachute is a little one-sided. Vita wants to know the old companies that Charlie sabotage while Charlie wants to get to know Vita personally. It feeds into Crowded #12’s ongoing thread of Charlie wanting Vita to see her as more than a client, but as someone she can build a future with. This emotionally dynamic beat ends up bleeding into the main plot for maximum suffering and feels.
As the issue progresses, Sebela, Stein, and Brandt indulge in even more dysfunctional relationship tropes. A pet turns out to be the emotional glue of the couple. A character storms off for basically this story universe’s equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. In a very contemporary moment, the disconnect from each other on the app where they found each other. Sebela very much plays into the “downer” second part of a trilogy idea. He wisely applies it to the relationship between Charlie and Vita instead of having them surrounded by armies of money-hungry, wannabe mercenaries.
That kind of spectacle showed up in earlier issues of Crowded. More recent installments have focused on the intricacies of love, lust, work, and relationships. However, Sebela, Stein, Brandt, and Farrell have dialed down the quirky, thrilling bits of the book. The escape from the missile silo is a highlight and example of this comic’s humorous approach to capers and setpieces.
There’s an added bonus of the antagonist, Ophelia, being fleshed out in a fantastic double-page spread. Sebela, Stein, and Brandt create a unique connection between her and Vita. Vita sees a little bit of her own hypercompetence and ability to create plans out of thin air and offers to be a kind of remote mentor to her. As a youngster, Vita was shifted from foster home to foster home with no real adult figure to lean on. She wants to pay that forward and be that figure to Ophelia. It’s a really well-developed subplot and good respite from the Vita and Charlie arguing and sometimes smooching and other things parts.
Crowded #12 is the latest, shining example of a comic that has it all. It features compelling chemistry between lead characters, thrilling plot elements with a dash of humor, engaging visuals, and a color palette that adds depth to characters and the events of the story. Crowded #12 ends on a cliffhanger with an air of menace. I can’t wait to see how Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, and Cardinal Rae wrap their tale of road trips, romance, and creepy technology in volume 3.
Story: Christopher Sebela Art: Ro Stein, Ted Brandt
Colors: Triona Farrell Letters: Cardinal Rae
Story: 8.6 Art: 9.2 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review