Review by Win Wiacek
Human nature and good comics are the prime points of graphic salutary warning Contraband, as crafted by doodling veteran Phil Elliott and hopefully not-too prescient scribe Thomas J. Behe. Here they communally invite you into a very imminent tomorrow (heck, it actually feels like the proverbial “20 minutes into the future”, in some places), proving that no matter how much things change, they basically stay the same.
Quite soon now, the utter ubiquity of mobile phones, cameras, social media platforms, greed and human hunger for attention will create a new industry. Everybody films on their phones and criminal lawyers and cops are all too grateful for that, but when video clips can be uploaded for untraceable cash and kudos to dark web app Contraband, that content is increasingly skewed towards cruel, erotic, violent, humiliating or simply disgusting criminal acts. Successful contributors earn plenty, but the true draw is the cachet of topping the highly-competitive chart of Likes, with the public being the truly democratic arbiters of modern taste and morality.
This in a world is still recovering from spirit-crushing and corporation-enhancing Middle Eastern wars, but back in ostensibly unshaken London, all anyone can think of is getting something juicy onto social media. One of those ambitious dreamers is self-styled citizen-journalist Toby, whose recording of an illegal act propels him into the middle of a secret war for control of the voyeurs’ underworld.
His brief moment of fame leads to his being targeted by villainous wideboy Tucker, who – since his return from Afghanistan – has embraced private enterprise as boss of Contraband, aided only – it would seem – by his hulking, deceptively deep henchman and technical adviser Plugger.
Their sordid lives are not all sunshine, roses and sleaze. A bill is going through Parliament to limit online abuse, and an anti-violence campaign led by charismatic demagogue Jarvis Stevens is stirring up the wrong kind of muck and attention. Most importantly, Tucker’s former Afghan associate Charlotte is in hiding. She has access to very damaging dirt that the internet entrepreneur needs to neuter now. That’s where Toby comes in. For absolutely inexplicable reasons, Tucker believes the baffled neophyte can prise her from whatever bolthole she’s in and makes life extremely uncomfortable until he agrees to try. However, as he sets to, the digital innocent is swamped by conflicting stories and vile revelations, quickly learning no one can trust anyone else.
Oppressive, paranoid, violent and disturbing, this sublimely inventive yarn combines crime thriller with spy mystery and delivers a splendid sequence of byzantine futuristic shocks, deliciously delineated in a potently understated fashion.
First published by Slave Labor Graphics in 2008, this dark and timely construction gets a fresh lease on life – and possible repeat fees – thanks to Markosia, so don’t miss the opportunity to safely see the world that’s coming… before it sees you.