According to the general rules of dark sci-fi, one of two things could happen in a post-apocalyptic world. The first is a Mad Max-like state of anarchy, where rival pockets of civilisation battle it out for decreasing resources. The other is the rise of a dictatorship, usually on the basis of national security, and backed up by an expanding cycle of state sponsored violence and fear. Sometimes, as in Judge Dredd and One Live Beast, you get both.
Although One Live Beast isn’t extrapolated quite as far into the future as Dredd, there are similarities in the setting. America’s cities have been surrounded by enormous impenetrable walls, designed to keep the mutants of the wastelands beyond out, and the populace in. Democracy has disintegrated into dictatorship, albeit one that is still lead by a President. But where Dredd focuses on the anti-hero lawman, One Live Beast follows a citizen called Chris, a technological whizz-kid in a society that has effectively banned tinkering with technology on the grounds that it could be used by terrorists.
Chris is unhappy with the situation though, and secretly hacks the government’s computer network in the hope of finding some information on his parents, who he has never known. Instead he stumbles across a secret government project, which turns his world upside down and exposes the government as an evil and deeply corrupt regime.
This is the first book in a series of three, so a good chunk of it is scene setting and character-building. Chris starts out as a bit of a dweeb, though the responsibility of his knowledge brings him power, and soon he’s top of the most wanted list. This dramatic shift in his personality makes it difficult to establish empathy for the character – his naivety has him leaving his friends exposed, while his motives remain a tad ambiguous and potentially self-centred. He creates a glove that starts off as a sort of wireless input device to help him hack the government’s computers, but it soon takes on all the trappings of a magical artefact from a fantasy story.
Jeff’s artwork is mixed – his backgrounds and architecture are excellent, adding to the feeling that we’re reading about a coherent, fleshed out near-future world. His characters are less convincing at times, with large jaws and small foreheads occasionally making their heads look a little odd. The speech balloons occasionally come out in a confusing order as characters have discussions and talk over one another, which is aided by connecting strings between balloons but is still sometimes ambiguous and difficult to follow.
This is a good stab at a dark-future sci-fi book, and while this first volume sometimes feels like it’s leaning quite heavily on the staples of its genre, the plot is compelling in its own right. The quality of the art doesn’t quite match the script, but it’s a solid piece of speculative fiction and we have high hopes for future volumes.