Story: Christopher Sebela
Art: Ro Stein, Ted Brandt
Publisher: Image Comics
Christopher Sebela and his team imagine a world in which the Purge goes digital. Rather than saving all your pent up rage for one day a year, ‘Crowded’ creates a reality in which you can put out a hit on anyone at any time via the Reapr App. Once the campaign is opened, the target has two options:
1. Contemplate their life choices and await death’s arrival.
2. Hire a bodyguard on the Dfend App and pray they survive the next 30 days.
If targets survive the 30-day campaign, they are given lifetime immunity on the Reaper app and are allowed to live out the remainder of their days in peace.
Although hits are given the reality show treatment with bounty hunters jockeying for top spots, few campaigns have grabbed headlines quite like Charlie Ellison’s.
Charlie, a seemingly ordinary citizen working multiple freelance jobs in Los Angeles, somehow managed to rack up an unprecedented one million dollar campaign against her. Our dear Charlie has managed to get on the bad side of some very powerful people. Who those people might be, remains a mystery to the readers.
Charlie is joined by Vita, a professional bodyguard whom Charlie hires through the Dfend App. Despite Charlie’s party now, survive later attitude Vita is determined to keep Charlie alive. Vita’s strong moral code won’t let her abandon Charlie either, even though Charlie has cost Vita her house, the sanctuary of the library, and the comfort of Los Angeles. Vita hasn’t lost a client yet, and she isn’t about to start now.
Although Charlie and Vita grow closer over the course of the first six issues, they still do not completely trust one another. The unspoken truths and mysterious pasts have the potential to mend the gap that lies between Vita and Charlies, or completely destroy the partnership that exists and plunge both women head first into perilous waters.
That is the main selling point of ‘Crowded’. Not the deadly apps, nor the constant threat of death, but the relationship between two individuals who are guarding closets full of skeletons, thrown together by circumstance.
The wild west setting of ‘Crowded’ isn’t inconsequential. Its familiarity is unnerving as Sebela comments on societies inability to function without the use of technology. This can be seen in the library scene in issue #3. Vita explains that libraries installed jammers to create a more immersive human experience, however, the move crippled libraries nationwide. Later on in issue #6, we see a bounty hunter named Trotter use a legion of driverless cars in an effort to assassinate Charlie and Vita, only to fail miserably on live television when things don’t go according to plan.
In a time where injustice runs rampant and instant gratification drives the economy, ‘Crowded’ is a very compelling read. The temptation of leapfrogging flawed legal systems is hard to resist. But if we give in, what happens to our humanity when we are okay with casually murdering someone who wronged us?
‘Crowded’ is a cautionary tale that we would do well to heed. After all, we only have ten minutes left before Reapr goes public.