Writing a follow up to the critically acclaimed winner of our indie comics of the year 2019 was never going to be easy, but with PUNO will Gustaffo Vargas be able to deliver another potential award winning volume of his Peruvian Cyberpunk adventure?
Publisher: Tacu Tintu Press
Writer: Gustaffo Vargas
Artist: Gustaffo Vargas
Price: £6 from Gustaffo’s Online Store
If Gustaffo Vargas’ Peruvian Cyberpunk comics were records, then his first mini books TRUJILL0 and L1MA would be the early incendiary EPs, while MANU would be the all conquering debut album. However that means that PUNO, his new release, is the difficult second album!
Following a book as imaginative and brilliantly conceived as MANU was always going to be a tough act, and while PUNO isn’t quite as immediate as it’s predecessor, it’s still packed with the kind of unique concepts and glorious world building which we love in Gustaffo’s work.
The story begins with a bunch of baddie soldiers torturing a group of indigenous natives with a giant robot dog called a P3RRO, as a retaliation for the events of MANU and to try and find the whereabouts of the enigmatic Canella. She is is still in hiding with girlfriend Sonia, but knows that her cover is blown and that it is time to head to the city and fight back against those trying to hunt her down.
As with a lot of middle acts in a three part story, this is as much about setting out the long term goal of the story and moving pieces into place for the finale, as it is telling a great tale. If MANU was a jungle action thriller, then this feels much more like the middle of a revenge story like Taken or Deathwish. Vargas is clearly attempting to build the tension of the situation and direct things to an epic conclusion, however when read in isolation, the story in PUNO feels a little subdued and not up to the usual searing pace of previous offerings.
That’s not to say this story doesn’t have it’s moments, as one scene involving Canella killing a sleazy business man will stay with you for a long LONG time after reading it. As does the scene where she breaks up with Sonia in order to protect her. These individual scenes are what makes Gustaffo’s work so strong and along with the opener, are the glue which holds the world of Altiplano series together – even when the story as a whole slows down and becomes more involved?
Visually PUNO continue the fantastic style of it’s predecessors. The aesthetics and character designs have always been one of Gustaffo’s strengths, and PUNO is another tour de force. From the angular and intimating P3RRO (which feels like K9’s rabid older brother!) to the tripped out night club scenes (which ooze neon sleaze) through to some epic double-double page spread, dream sequences (which feel like something from a Grant Morrison inspired psychedelic nightmare), the whole thing feels packed full of imagination.
It’s also great to his style becoming more polished, as work on books like Crayta has helped him develop more consistency and quality to his work. However, he does this without losing his raw energy and experimental edge – as those ambitious spreads and unconventional moments continually remind us.
PUNO is a worthy successor to it’s illustrious predecessors. The Altiplano series continue to be a book series while feels unlike anything else around, so much so that we use it as a source of reference now for anything a bit South American and cyberpunk (e.g. GIGA). With a tense cliff hanger leaving us dangling, we cannot wait for another trip into the South American pueblos, but perhaps we will steer clear of the night clubs!