Suburban and Chickenhawk: The Mega-Mall Disaster (#1) – Jakob Free

5 out of 5

The cover of this, plus the chuckly name, tells you you’re probably looking at a superhero spoof of sorts, with our lead duo fitting the Batman and Robin mold of an older, wiser hero and his sire. Except as artist George Kambadais depicits it, Suburban sits in the titular mall, flush shopping bags, sipping casually on a soda, while Chickenhawk is arrested in the background; part of our spoof will involve positing the elder of the duo as a doofus, then.

And while some of those assumptions are essentially true, ‘The Mega-Mall Disaster’ steps outside of a predictable template from the get-go: we don’t actually see our lead heroes until eight pages into this twenty page issue, and the amount of story heavy-lifting writer Jakob Free does, smoothly, in those pages is ridiculous. First we get a riff on consumerism, with the Mega-Mall being a one-stop shop for all indulgences, then it bumps into the absurd, with the mall employing “time dampening” technology, such that once inside its walls, relative days spent equal minutes in the outside world, and then it ticks over into sci-fi, as this is enabled by the AI Attila, which, of course, inevitably goes insane and puts the mall on lockdown to create its own human-sanitized version of utopia. Free balances the tone just-so: “AI goes crazy” is not new – and Attila’s narrations are hilarious (“I have diagnose and catalogued 3,476 cases of things I really, really do not like about you”) – but he makes it feel fresh thanks to having that time-warp concept to throw into the mix, so the story can escalate at an exciting, and amusing pace.

Then enter our duo, who are a combo of gym dork (The Suburban) and techno-smarts dude (Chickenhawk), but the wrinkle here: they actually function well together. Most of these setups have Chickenhawk doing everything and rolling their eyes at their falling-on-their-face leader, but the two balance each other out, and as the story progresses, Free proves that The Suburban also has his own form of “intelligence,” rather naturally sussing out the way through a fight. This never abandons the comedic banter or tone of the book, though, through their sneaking into the mall, capture at the hands of Attila’s robot army, and then…

To Be Continued?? If there’s any problem with the book, it’s that: that it’s only one issue.

Kambadais art is also great, with a clean, energetic style of method of cropped framing that reminds me a bit of Atomic Robo’s Scott Wegener, but their layouts are a lot more dynamic. Assisted on coloring by Daniel Irizarri, the book employs a red / blue base – not overt – that syncs with Suburban and Chickenhawk’s duds; it’s a bright, exciting palette, making the issue as fun to flip through as it is to read.