The end of the series is finally here. Having been promised the end of the world, I expected complete annihilation, even if I wasn’t sure precisely what form it would take. It certainly starts out as expected, with a massive battle between the forces of Archibald Chamberlain, President of the Confederacy, and Premier Xiaolin Mao, leader of the PRA (and wife of Death). The battle is protracted, with a series of surprises: each side seizes victory from apparent defeat, more than once. In the end Mao’s forces lose, but the body count is so high that it is not much of a victory.
Mao herself is saved, courtesy of an intervention by the Kingdom. Despite his victory, Chamberlain and his hostage Bel Solomon both fall in a showdown with the last remaining Texas Ranger. The Four Horsemen have a final battle in the Valley of the Gods, which leaves only Death standing. At Armistice another great treaty is signed: every end is also a new beginning. Babylon’s AI finally confesses that he was programmed to show him the world in a certain way–as a broken world that needed to be destroyed–but because of a promise made to his father, Death, he tells Babylon to take off the AI helmet.
This is the true resolution. Babylon finally sees the world as it is, instead of the desolate apocalyptic landscape which the AI had been programmed to show him. His mother loves him, and love is the great organizing principle of the world. The world of the series has ended, but a new one has risen in its place. It is not the expected ending for the series–which would have involved ever-escalating battle, culminating in explosions and a white screen–but a more realistic one. The world does not end: it continues, older and wiser, and ready to move on to a more realistic status. The series stopped using subtitles for the collected editions awhile back. But this one could have been “The End,” or possibly “An End and a Beginning.”
I was not a fan of Chew, the hit Image series written by John Layman with art by Rob Guillory, so this one was not on my radar. Since the art is again Guillory’s the visual similarities should be expected. But the concept and writer’s voice are also similar, making this an impressive debut for Guillory the writer (he already won a Harvey award for Best New Talent in 2010 for his art on Chew, and the series won two Eisner awards). This is another “weird science” story: the Jenkins Family Farm grows bio-agricultural replacement human organs.
But the story proper begins with Zeke Jenkins and his family preparing for a visit to the farm. Zeke has been estranged from his father Jedidiah (part of a long line of farmers and inventor of the stem cell that was combined with plant DNA to create the bio-engineered plants grown on the farm). Family drama will form a large part of the story, grounding the surreal science. There is plenty of drama in the family’s relationship with the small nearby town of Freetown as well. And history: especially with Jed’s former associate Monica Thorne (who also happens to be running for mayor).
There’s more: mysterious Russian agents out to steal the stem cell secret; an old friend in town who opposes the work of the Farm; and signs that the Farm’s mutations have spread in uncontrolled ways, with unexpected results. These include mutant animals in town, weird new effects in patients who received the replacements, and a secret that Thorne has been keeping (as well as a military connection Zeke’s sister Andrea is apparently still serving). Quite a rich opening arc, with lots of possibilities. Not surprisingly, the subject matter is perfectly suited to Guillory’s cartoonish visual style (exaggerated, almost parody-like facial expressions are a specialty). He gets to write what he likes to draw!
Max Winters is a pulp writer in 1930s New York, churning out Westerns at five cents a word. It turns out that the Red River Kid (his signature character) is actually based on his earlier life in Wyoming as an outlaw known as the Red Rock Kid: that history is told gradually through flashbacks. After suffering a major heart attack (while trying to defend a Jew on the subway) Max has reason to recollect. When he decides to attempt a robbery he meets up with his past again, in the form of Jeremiah Goldman, one of the Pinkerton detectives who had pursued him back in the day.
Goldman isn’t just there to protect Max from himself. He has a business proposition: he wants Max to help him steal a crate of cash from some American Nazis, claiming that the money is part of regular shipments to Germany. The robbery does not go as planned. Goldman was really after ledgers detailing prominent Americans who have been secretly donating to the Nazi cause. To make up for his deception, he gives Max the deed to a house in Queens and a bank account with $8,000 in it: the things Max wanted for his wife Rosa.
After getting out of the hospital Max reads about an exposed banker forced to resign in disgrace, and goes to see Goldman to congratulate him. He finds him dead, killed by Nazis in the building while trying to defend the sister of one of them. Despite a brief fantasy of living in Queens with Rosa, Max knew he was on borrowed time. So he chooses to go out like an outlaw, in a blaze of glory.
The Brubaker/Phillips collaborations have set a high bar, one which Pulp easily clears. A tribute to the pulp tradition (as the title promises), it is at the same time a meditation on justice, aging, violence, and societal change. The story line sets up a rich visual world shifting between the Wild West and New York City: exciting to read and beautiful to look at. A triumph.