Fantastically Dark, Surprisingly Light & All Kinds Of Murdery: Crowded Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Ten minutes in the future, the world runs on an economy of job shares and apps—like Reaper, a platform for legal assassination. When the apparently average Charlie Ellison wakes up one day to find out she’s the target of a million dollar Reapr campaign, she hires Vita, the lowest rated bodyguard on the Dfend app. Now, with all of Los Angeles hunting Charlie, she and Vita will have to figure out who wants her dead, and why, before the campaign’s 30 days—or their lives—are over. From Eisner-nominated writer Cristopher Sebela (Shanghai Red, We(l)come Back, Heartthrob), Ro Stein and Ted Brandt (Captain Marvel, Raven: The Pirate Princess), Triona Farrell (Runaways, Mech Cadet Yu), and Cardinal Rae (Bingo Love, Rose).

Crowded Volume 1 doesn’t just hit the ground running, it hit the ground killing. It’s barely seven panels before some poor schmuck’s guts are splattered all over the wall. Not to worry, though. The dude probably deserved it. Probably. Kind of hard to tell though, because Crowded is one of those stories where it isn’t immediately apparent whose side you’re supposed to be on. Everyone’s at least a little scandalous, and we aren’t really given clear “heel” and “face” labels. I sincerely hope that moral ambiguity carries throughout the entire series.
The premise is beautifully simple. We have apps for EVERYTHING now. Some of the services Charlie provides for her clients seem odd at first, until you realize that every one of the services she’s providing to make a buck via her smartphone is based off an honest-to-god real life app that is currently available. With all those other nutty apps out there, why wouldn’t contract killing have its own crowdfunding platform? It’s an obvious progression, really.

There’s this kid Charlie, and somehow she’s racked up an insane million dollar bounty on the REAPR app. You know, just minding her own business. With a disturbing amount of bumbling amateurs taking pops at her on the street, she turns to Vita, the lowest rated bodyguard on the DFEND app, in an attempt to stay vertical and breathing for the next 30 days. Unfortunately for Vita, Charlie’s doing a bunch of really, really, really dumb stuff that’s probably going to get them both killed, and quickly.

Christopher Sebela does a fantastic job with the pacing in this first arc. He doles out pieces of the bigger picture here and there, but generally, the reader is learning about what the real deal is as the characters are also learning. There’s an underlying darkness in each of the principals’ stories that they’re trying desperately to hide from one another, and everyone is deeply suspicious of everyone else’s motivations. Exposition mostly comes from personal retelling of past events, and the bias is obvious when each character is telling their own stories.

On the visual side of things, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, and Cardinal Rae present a surprisingly cool, airy aesthetic for such dark material. Stein’s cinematic angles and brilliant spreads, Brandt’s clean finish work, Farrell’s rose-tinted palette, and Rae’s crisp lettering all contribute to Crowded’s deceptively simple, sexy look. This book is beautiful. There. I said it.

Crowded is a fantastically dark, yet shockingly light look at modern society and our interpersonal interaction. Constantly connected, yet hopelessly disconnected. It’s a slick commentary on where we are as humans, and a sly little piece of satire that takes a good hard poke at our dependence on tech and our constant need for validation. 
Crowded: Volume 1 drops 20 March 2019. Buy this book.

Crowded, Volume 1 TPB, Image Comics, releases 20 March 2019. Written/designed by Christopher Sebela, line art by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, colors by Triona Farrell, letters by Cardinal Rae, logo by Dylan Todd.

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