Killtopia Volume 1
Written by Dave Cook, Art by Craig Paton, Letters by Robin Jones, Flats by Ludwig Olimba
BHP Comics, 2018
Review by Callum McSorley
In an unnamed Japanese mega city of the future, Sector K – “Killtopia” to you, sports-fans – has been home to wild mechs since the disaster which made it uninhabitable. These animal-shaped machines are hunted for fun and profit by Wreckers, mercenaries suited and booted in retro-futuristic techno-garb with weapons to match. Think a punk version of Kid Vid who serves up whoopass instead of Whoppers.
While scavenging scrap tech to sell for medication for his dying sister, wannabe Wrecker, Shinji, comes across a humanoid, sentient mech named Crash who will change everything everyone understands about Sector K and the mech infestation. That is, if they don’t get killed first.
This is the premise of new comic series Killtopia by Dave Cook and Craig Paton.
While Sector K itself is a post-apocalyptic wasteland of toppled buildings being reclaimed by nature, the city around it – where we spend most of our time in Volume 1 – is a lurid world of bright colours, garish holograms, and intriguing street signs – Reno’s Radiation Free Reindeer Steaks, anyone?
We follow Shinji and Crash down sleazy streets teeming with the dispossessed, people augmented by the both glamourous and hideous effect of technology. Paton nails the cyberpunk aesthetics here. You can see influences in the artwork from Judge Dredd to Halo Jones. Spider Jerusalem (or somebody cosplaying as him) can be spotted in crowd scenes in a nod to Transmetropolitan.
The top Wreckers, like a deadly version of TV’s Gladiators, are decorated in brazen sponsorship decals that hint at the corporate-owned world that funds their violent existence. Even in a time of massive economic downturn, big business is still doing well – the final panel lingers on a close-up of an empty red-and-white can of ‘Kaiju-Kola’.
There are images here set to be every bit as iconic as Kaneda sporting his pill-design red jacket from Akira. For instance, Stiletto pointing her pistol out at the reader, with its pink leopard-print grip and “I *Heart* My Gun” stamped on the barrel.
Cook undercuts the macho bombast of his sweary, ultra-violent script with some effective tender moments between Shinji and his unwell sister, and the growing friendship between boy and robot. The latter occasionally tips over too far, with Crash delivering a line so earnest it borders on cringeworthy – “Is this what it means to live?” – when he sees the city outside Sector K for the first time.
It might be set in a super-stylised dystopian Japan, but the gags throughout have a distinct Scottish flavour to them, delighting in being both juvenile and shrewd. I won’t be the only reader who laughs out loud at the smiling “Wreck-Fest” superfan who has sold his testicles on the black market for tickets to the yearly tournament where wreckers hunt each other rather than mechs. Paying close attention to the backgrounds of the crisp, colourful city scenes yield a few rewarding smirks that send up the usually po-faced dystopia genre.
Though vibrant and alive in its degradation, fans of sci-fi, whether that’s books, comics, films or video games, will already feel familiar with the world of Killtopia. The deer-like mechs are not dissimilar to the robo-animals of Horizon Zero Dawn, Crash kind of looks like Chappie from the Neill Blomkamp film of the same name, and the city itself has been seen in many iterations and variations since the birth of cyberpunk in the 80s, most recently on screen in Blade Runner 2049 and the live-action film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
Whether this is a fault of a celebration of the genre is for the reader to decide. The comic is dense with allusions to unpack and is self-aware in the way it tips its hat to the history of sci-fi’s most vital, most plausible, and most human subgenre. Cyberpunk is having a massive resurgence, from Richard Morgan’s best-seller Altered Carbon and its big-budget Netflix adaptation to the much-anticipated video game Cyberpunk 2077 (itself a remake of a 1980s table-top game), Killtopia is riding this wave in style.
Volume 1 concerns itself with the set up and leaves the reader wanting more. The glimpses we get of some downright creepy-looking wreckers being called in to hunt Shinji and Crash are bursting with potential – a phrase which sums up the first volume of Killtopia perfectly.
Cook and Paton’s project began life as a Kickstarter campaign which was then taken on by Glasgow indie publisher BHP Comics. No doubt pledgers will have been thrilled by the first issue and expectations for the rest of the series, much like Wreck-Fest, will have fans ready to sell their body parts to get their hands on it.