Review: Friendo #1 & 2 (Vault Comics)

We’re living in a world run by digital assistants, and so it’s inevitable that their ominous presence should make an appearance in sci-fi comics. Writer Alex Paknadel and artist Martin Simmonds have taken things to the extreme in Friendo though, with a malevolent and destructive digital buddy who not only encourages excessive spending but much worse along the way!

Publisher: Vault Comics
Writer: Alex Paknadel
Artist: Martin Simmonds, Dee Cunniffe, Taylor Esposito
Price: £2.49 from ComiXology

Leo is a down on his luck actor, struggling for work, and spending his days involved in car crashes for money or appearing in a weird Wizard of Oz themed revue show. But fortunately his girlfriend is much more successful than him and so in an attempt to alleviate his bad mood she buys him the latest gadget – a pair of glasses with an in built virtual assistant called Jerry. As the vulnerable Leo begins to bond with Jerry, what starts off as a fairly healthy relationship soon takes a spiral into darker places and you begin to ask whether Jerry is really the friend he claims to be, or just a clever algorithm designed to manipulate his owner.

Paknadel manages to smartly capture the digital assistant zeitgeist here, while also giving it a Black Mirror style future-phobic slant. The world of Friendo is close enough to our own to be recognisable, but distant enough to allow for some more outlandish moments. While Leo is cast as this troubled soul, at the same time he is also very fortunate to have a supportive partner and so in a way is a victim of his own actions by allowing Jerry to take such a hold on his life (albeit thanks to his partner introducing them!).

With Jerry and Leo’s relationship, Paknadel looks at themes of addiction and consumerism, with Leo forced to show ‘purchase intent’ in order to keep his digital pal around. He also looks at our dependency on technology and how it can replace real world interactions if it’s allowed to. With Jerry able to be a customised character, Paknadel and Simmonds cast him as a quite reptilian individual – all angled cheek bones and sharp suits – which should give away the fact that he is not necessarily the good influence Leo needs. But at the same time Leo is the kind of guy who gravitates towards danger and excitement and so Jerry couldn’t be any other way. At the end of the day, Jerry is the ultimate bad influence of a new best friend, and the fact he is digital makes it so much more sinister and sad.

Visually, Friendo is something else. Martin Simmonds is having a stellar year with books like Punks Not Dead and Death Sentence Liberty Girl, and his outrageous and utterly unique art continues to dazzle here. Although it perhaps lacks a bit of the potency that he has in Death Sentence, as a result of not doing his own colouring, it still has this neon shininess to it thanks to the excellent Dee Cunniffe, which gives the world a coldness that juxtaposes nicely with the sepia toned flashback scenes to Leo’s tragic childhood. Simmonds love of an unconventional angle and his willingness to create an epic double page spread layout keeps Friendo’s world from feeling too predictable and although perhaps not as outlandish of some of his other work, there are still plenty of mind blowing moments that Simmonds adds his own electrifying style to.

The book also benefits from some incredibly slick cover and package design which really help it to really stand out from the masses and continues Vault Comic’s run of strong releases in 2018. (You’d be forgiven for thinking it was an Image book, it has that level of slickness to it!)

While the concept may seem fairly straight forward, Friendo has a lot more layers to it and so takes a while to really find it’s voice and so we have held off reviewing it until now. The first issue left a few too many questions unanswered for us to truly get our heads around as Paknadel built his world and it’s background, but after reading issue #2 then it starts to make more sense and the trajectory of the book begins to make more sense so we’d recommend picking up both books if you can. (We appear to have turned into a bit of a Jerry ourselves here!! – Ed)

Once you are into it, Friendo has that anarchic and maniacal streak which we have loved in Simmonds’ other work this year, while being backed up by some very smart and thought provoking story-telling from Paknadel that has the potential to grow into something really interesting in the coming issues. So if you’re finding yourself becoming a bit too pally with your Alexa then this is your warning message, because Friendo is that nightmare digital buddy that the world has been warning us all about!