The first arc of Mike Garley and Joshua Sherwell’s The Kill Screen introduced us to their digital dystopian world where corrupted computer user ran rampant across a broken near future and those who were unaffected by the event known as The Kill Screen battled for survival. Well, now they’re back with a new format and an origin story for the world they have created, but will it be another high tech hit or should it be sent to the trash?
Publisher: Mike Garley Comics
Writer: Mike Garley
Artist: Joshua Sherwell, Mike Stock
Unlike previous volumes, which were more traditional 20 page comic books, this new volume of The Kill Screen is more like a mini trade paperback, as it collects together 50+ pages from their Patreon along with an extra Nine Lives The Cat Story and some pin ups. As such, it allows Garley and Sherwell the time and space to tell a much more protracted and expanded story without having to rely on the restrictive format of a 20 page comic.
The story is split into two main chunks, with the main part focusing on a group of cool young kids on a night out, with one of them revealing the reason he has a 3.5 inch floppy disk in his pocket. Apparently it contains some code that he found on the dark web that if added to a computer will destroy everything. In other words, we’re lead to presume it’s The Kill Screen on a disc. When he explains to his disbelieving buddies the origins of the disc he tells them story about an arcade machine in the 80s that was infected with the software on this disc that corrupted one of the kids playing it (in the familiar digitised way we see in other Kill Screen episodes) and the government have covered it all up. Meanwhile a secondary story sees a safe designer get kidnapped and forced to reveal to a group of balaclava mercenaries the secrets to a bank vault he has designed.
As a result of this extra space to tell their story Garley and Sherwell don’t rush things, and although at times you find yourself wondering where the story is heading as the group of friends who we don’t really know down more shots, at the same time it is refreshing to read a book with the confidence to take it’s time. Garley builds the story around some classic horror movie tropes (such as the disc with the forbidden software on, which feels very Ring or Blair Witch) which he telegraphs nicely with the group’s conversation about their first horror movie they watched. But there are also elements of classic 80s tech dramas like War Games or Ready Player One, while also having an underlying crime thriller sub plot which drives things along.
The whole thing builds nicely as you get to know this new group of characters who aren’t immediately likeable ot familiar. But as they begin to expand on the back story, the relative lack of action does not necessarily mean a lack of interest, as the story simmers gently before exploding into life in the final few pages. It would have been easy for them to simply burn through the plot and get to the birth of The Kill Screen in 10 pages, but this extra time allows the characters to have some added depth so that when something does happen it has meaning.
Sherwell’s artwork meanwhile is really strong throughout. His quite formal, unfussy style works brilliantly for the amount of talking heads on offer throughout, but he is still given the opportunity to break out some violence in places to spectacular effect. Although his work can feel a bit awkward in places, with some of the figures not always feeling completely natural, he continues to give the book a really distinct identity (especially in the scenes with the arcade) and has such a strong feel for the world of The Kill Screen that it forgives any minor technical quibbles. When backed up with a strong sense of design on some of the pages (the shot drinking scene feels almost David Aja-esque), plus Mike Stock’s excellent lettering, means this is another high-tech slice of dark digital dystopia delights and a timely reminder of why The Kill Screen is one of the most inventive and innovative comics on the indie/small press scene today.
If you were to pick up this volume of The Kill Screen as a new reader you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about, as it is low on action and high on exposition (and features a random story about a cat!), but for long time fans it is a fantastic glimpse into what is yet to come. And because The Kill Screen is such a strong concept, it makes the slow burn of this new volume even more enticing.