The problem with Young Terrorists isn’t that it isn’t about anything, but that it’s about too much. There’s a lot of plot, a lot of exposition, a lot of characters. Charts and graphs are employed. Every character has backstory and a gimmick. The plot goes every which way. There’s just a lot.
This is an angry book, and in 2018 righteous anger can paper over a lot of sins. This comic runs on indignation, pure rocket fuel that burns incandescent white. (I watch the news all day so I can relate.) Matteo Pizzolo’s name appears on the comic twice, both as the series’ writer and one of the co-founders of Black Mask Studios. There are worse reasons to co-found a comic book company than to have an outlet for ultra-leftist political books.
I like everything about Young Terrorists, really ... except the book itself. And the reason I didn’t particularly like the book has nothing to do with the book’s politics, with which I find myself in general agreement. The reason is that there’s just too much going on here, even in the context of a two-hundred-page story. Although some things work and the book improves drastically as it goes, it stumbles out of the gate. It’s the kind of book where, after reading the story, I was surprised by the blurb on the back cover: A young heiress discovers her father is part of a tyrannical new world order. She vows to burn his whole empire down. That’s what I read? The young heiress of that description is Sera. Trained by her plutocratic father into some kind of tough-as-nails super-soldier, she leads a terrorist cell based out of Detroit. She’s got a half-mohawk and pinstripe slacks, very striking design.
However, Sera isn’t actually the story’s point-of-view. That honor goes to Cesar, a young animal rights activist on the run from the law. We meet him at his lowest, destitute and naked, stealing clothes from a trucker who gave him a few dollars for sexual favors. This is a raw story in many ways: there’s a plot point in this chapter about being able to afford mouthwash after said sexual favor, and then after that Cesar gets the shit beat out of him with a pipe wrench and left to die naked in the middle of a snowstorm.
This is a bloody book. Amancay Nahuelpan is the artist, and although I was unfamiliar with his work before, Young Terrorists offers a great deal of promise. It’s not perfect. The early passages of the book suffer a bit from poor blocking. Take the very first pages: a punk in a hoodie shoots a man to steal his daughter out of a stroller. You can understand what’s happening but the way in which the sequence unfolds is not a very inviting beginning to the story. The first page has five panels, and each of these five panels changes the perspective from the previous panel so completely that there’s no sense of consistent physical context to the scene. It’s jarring and disjointed, but that’s also something that improves as the book goes.
Nahuelpan’s greatest strength and his greatest weakness is the way his figures interact with the borders of the panel. On the one hand his characters move dynamically and with great expression – but on the other, occasionally these dynamic poses are illegible within the context of the story. When it comes together, it really works: the book’s final action setpiece, an all-out assault on a factory farm, complete with jetpacks and attack pigeons, is by far the best thing here. Whatever shakiness was present in both Nahuelpan’s art and the first few chapters of Pizzolo’s story starts to iron itself out after the characters are already established and we can begin to understand what’s going on. The action is good.
Young Terrorists works best when it gets out of its own way, but it takes a while for that to happen. There’s a lot of exposition. There’s some advantage to having a POV character like Cesar, new to the gang who get pulled in to learn the ropes, and in so doing the older characters establish the book’s premise. All well and good except we don’t meet Cesar until the second chapter, after we’ve already spent a very confusing couple dozen pages with Sera. There’s an Alex Jones spoof in here, whom Pizzolo uses as an exposition device (kind of like those old talking heads in Spawn!). The Alex Jones / Infowars stand-in, “Christopher Johanssen” of “Infocide,” is strangely not as incendiary or nutty as Jones actually is, and the fact that he has to also deliver some useful exposition about the intricate corporate governance structures within the book means that he already has to be like 75% more comprehensible than the real thing. Unless it involves taking off his shirt to help sell diet supplements, I don’t think Jones is probably good for much in the way of useful exposition in the real world.
Although I would hesitate to give Young Terrorists a full recommendation, I would also still be interested in seeing where these characters go. Sometimes creators can suffocate good ideas by loving them too much: I mean, how many absolutely incomprehensible first issues have you read which consist of a detailed infodump about the book’s setting? Probably more than a few? It’s a bad trap into which first issues can fall – especially first issues by untested writers. But it is a trap that creators can dig themselves out of with a bit of effort. The book ends on a much better note than it started, with a FCBD Special that details more of Sera’s origins. I feel as if some of that information would have been better to know at the beginning of the book, rather than the end, but that’s just me. The overall effect is not unpleasant because it’s a book that improves significantly as it goes along.
Young Terrorists is violent, bloody, and profoundly misanthropic. It is, in other words, the logical extension of our current political moment. A very gory book from the first page to the last, this is the kind of story that works overtime to remind the reader of just how fragile the human organism is, really just a sack of meat waiting to be pummeled, punctured, or pulverized by the next bully that wanders along. It’s a frightful thing, but so’s the news these days.