It’s another normal Tuesday morning; the routine as usual, except someone is trying to kill her. Everyone, it seems, is trying to kill her. This might seem extreme, but Charlie lives in a world with an app for everything from renting out clothing and dog walking to hiring hitmen and bodyguards. The app Reapr is like GoFundMe mixed with the lottery, but for murder, and Charlie has just become the biggest jackpot out there. Enter Vita, the lowest-rated bodyguard on the app Dfend, and the only one willing to take on Charlie. Hi-jinks most definitely ensue.
The premise of Crowded is ridiculous, and the characters are stereotypes, in that same way as the best action films. Except the characters aren’t stereotypes. Charlie seems at first encounter like an air-headed Millennial, and Vita, a dour old-fashioned assassin/bodyguard. But by the end of the first volume, we’ve already learned they’re far more, and there’s still more to learn about them both.
The comic itself is a delight to read; it makes excellent use of dynamic paneling that engages with the storyline and onomatopoeia that actually imitate the sound words in graphic format. So for example, a coffee getting thrown in someone’s face spells out ‘splash’ with the flying coffee. Crowded honestly feels like how an action movie should translate into a graphic novel format, and that’s thanks to those kinds of details that keep the energy high and the reader engaged. Because the comic has such a focus on phone apps, there are many instances where paneling will include phone screens and text conversations. It’s not something I’ve seen very often in comics and I love it because it reminds me of epistolary novels.
There are a few potential plot holes with how Reapr works, though this is fairly minor and I won’t get into it to avoid spoilers. I just hope that those holes do get explained or covered later in the series, purely because I like when creators catch on to their mistakes, rather than leaving a plot hole that would later be revealed to be a plot point. However, the way that Crowded works within its own world to explain backstories and get into world building is brilliant. There’s a scene with Charlie accidentally tripping off a rant in one of the side characters, which is how we learn about the creation and rise of Reapr.
Another feature of Crowded is that there’s representation of diverse forms of attraction, and it’s just part of the world. It’s fantastic that the reader doesn’t actually know the sexual preferences of Vita and Charlie, beyond past relationships we see/hear about. They do at a certain point go to a strip club, so fair warning for very scantily clad men and women. There’s also a fair amount of blood and violence, and of course, the premise of the comic involves regular people becoming assassins for hire, so Crowded is definitely teen plus, as Image has it rated. Depending on the teens’ population of any given library, I could see shelving this in the adult graphic instead. The comic certainly has visual references (like Vita’s yellow outfit) that I’m not sure younger readers would get as well. In general, Crowded is an excellent choice to add to a graphic collection looking to expand the action/drama options.
Crowded Vol. 1: Soft Apocalypse
By Christopher Sebela
Art by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt
Image Comics, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T+
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Character Traits: Lesbian, Bisexual