It’s no secret that the gig economy is king right now. Everyone you meet these days puts in a few hours driving for Lyft or delivers sushi part-time with Postmates. New app services launch every day as we discover brand new ways to parcel out our lives, one side hustle at a time. So it only makes sense that we’d figure out a way to parcel out our deaths too. This brings us to Crowded Vol 1, published by Image Comics, written by Christopher Sebela, with art by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, colors by Triona Farrel, and lettering by Cardinal Rae.
Crowded Vol 1 collects the first six issues of the series. Set in the city of Los Angeles, Crowded Vol 1 takes place 15 minutes in our future. It’s a time where no matter what you need, there’s an app for it. Need to borrow some cash? Why not pick up a loan with Moneyfriender! Feeling lonely? Book an hourly friend of your own with Rentapal! Or do you just need someone in your life six feet under?
Well, you’re in luck. Thanks to hit app REAPR, anyone can launch a crowdfunded assassination contract with just the click of a button. When party girl Charlie Ellison wakes up one morning, she finds that someone has placed a million-dollar contract on her head. To stay alive she hires Vita Slater, the lowest-rated bodyguard on the DFEND app. With an entire city of part-time assassins gunning for them, this pair of mismatched women will try their best not to meet the REAPR.
From the very first page it’s clear that Crowded is a comic with nitroglycerin in its veins. The book has all the manic energy of a Tex Avery cartoon and twice the violence. Full of car chases and rocket launching librarians, Crowded stuffs frenetically absurd action onto nearly every page. That bare knuckle energy carries over into every aspect of the book. From Farrel’s vibrant color work to Stein and Brandt’s dynamic panels, Crowded never stops moving.
Of course with Looney Toon action you need an equally cartoonish cast. In this department Charlie and Vita do not disappoint. Vita’s an analog girl living in a digital world while Charlie seems like she was born with a selfie stick in her hand. In another book, Vita would fit in perfectly as a hard-boiled private eye while the self-absorbed Charlie has the social media presence of a Kardashian.
These characters do not go together, which makes watching them flail from one gun fight to the next entirely too fun. If anything, Crowded Vol 1’s biggest flaw is that it left me craving more time with its gonzo cast.
Like most stories set in the not so distant future, Crowded Vol 1 slips in some social commentary between shootouts. While Sebela’s script contains enough snark to choke a baby boomer, its satire has teeth.
Charlie’s life as a social media cog somehow led to a million dollar hit, with every one of her digital friends chipping in to end her life. While Crowded never lays it on too thick, it does show us a world where that lifestyle is the norm. Crowded Vol 1 challenges us to think while we laugh, and that’s always worth celebrating.
Crowded Vol 1 challenges us to think while we laugh, and that’s always worth celebrating.