Imagine if the Silver Age technology Stan and Jack gave us in the Sixties was real. If we’d lived in a world of flying cars, time machine and galactic nullifiers sixty years ago what would life be like now? Dose shows us and it’s not a pretty sight.
Dose from Sean Ellis and John Gebbia tells the story of Screw Worm, a burned out former super-hero who was “canned from the Pain Teens” for undisclosed reasons but judging from his copious drug habit we can probably hazard a guess. When Worm finds out that one of his former team mates Pinky has been killed he decides to investigate, a move that plunges him into the dark underbelly of a future noir San Francisco. What’s endearing about Worm is his complete ineptness. He lives in squalor, his house robot constantly insults him (“Rise and shine, Shitbird!”), he has the attention span of a gnat (“Boring!”) and his many addictions have left him addled and confused. As he says at the start “I think I’ve been self-medicating too much lately”.
Apparently living through a golden age of technological advancement and heroism does not leave the legacy of a better future. Think of Mos Eisley in Star Wars, a generation after the fall of the Jedi, Neo Tokyo at the start of Akira or Los Angeles in Blade Runner’s far future of 2019 and you get the idea. The wealthy pay for their children to be genetically enhanced turning the ordinary into an underclass. Earth is polluted, overcrowded and dangerous with criminal gangs running amok, incinerating each other with plasma rays (“The disintegrations are piling up!”). We begin to see very quickly why Worm wants to blot out reality.
Sean Ellis does a great job of creating a world that’s both familiar and fantastical. Like Max Headroom before it, Dose could well be set “20 minutes into the future”. Ellis gives us a San Francisco where aliens and superheroes are common place and technology has lost its futuristic sheen. Worm’s apartment reflects the society he lives in: squalid, dirty and littered with old tech. His dialogue is often funny and the plot rattles along nicely even if not much actually happens. The city slang helps create a sense that we’re somewhere we haven’t been to before but not in a way that’s too jarring (“You sure you ain’t flim flaming me?”).
John Gebbia’s art is certainly worth paying close attention to. The crowded streets, filthy rooms and heaving dance floors create a palpable sense of claustrophobia. His attention to detail is really something. Every frame is filled with robots, aliens and citizens in futuristic clothing. Neon billboards, holo news projectors, food stalls and night clubs give the reader a real sense of what it would be like to live in this version of San Francisco. There’s certainly a hint of Mega City One here and (for those of you with very long memories) Philip Bond’s Cheeky Wee Budgie Boy. The constant threat of violence and the casual adoption of fetish wear as street clothing also brings to mind Geoff Darrow’s intricate work on Hard Boiled.
Dose does a great job of world building in its debut issue and there’s much to enjoy here. Worm’s continual drug taking as the answer to every problem could get a bit tiresome after a while however and the pacing isn’t great (the story ends halfway through a very long scene on a dancefloor with Worm popping yet another pill) but Gebbia’s striking black and white art is a real standout.
Ellis also includes text pages at the back that drag you deeper into the world of Dose in the way that similar fictitious newspaper and magazine articles did in Watchmen and New Frontier. It’ll be interesting to say how things develop in the dystopian world of Dose and I’m looking forward to seeing whether or not Ellis and Gebbia can turn the book into what they already claim it is on page one, “the space time continuum’s best comic!”