A Race to the Finish?
A Review of Billionaire Island #1
In today’s CGI superhero world, it’s easy to forget that in previous eras of turmoil, comics were often the best at commenting on those times, able to mix sci-fi and satire without big budgets or fretting over things like cooperation from the armed forces to make everything look authentic.
While there were many movies depicting the fears of nuclear war, Alan Moore was actually able to show most of New York wiped out with Watchmen. Then there was Rick Veitch’s The One, which speculated that ending the world might actually be a good thing. Even with a Marvel property, Garth Ennis and Richard Corben were able to publish one of the more effective post 9–11 stories with Punisher: The End, depicting the last days of both the vigilante and the rest of life on post WWIII Earth.
The first issue of writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh’s four issue series Billionaire Island came out last week, wedged between a disheartening Super Tuesday and people’s fears surrounding both the Corona virus and the stock market slowly becoming reality today. Billionaire Island was clearly written and drawn months ago. Still, a story about an artificial island constructed over twenty years in the future as a safe haven for the wealthy while the rest of world deteriorates seems extraordinarily timely (especially since the world’s wealthy have already started planning this).
At the same time, when cruise ships — essentially floating islands — are currently tragic centerpieces in the Coronavirus story, and old white people are becoming the poster children for COVID-19 (particularly the men of wealth responsible for the epidemic getting out of control), is Billionaire Island already becoming less timely? In a period of American history where drama drops down us at a dizzying rate, Will Russell and Pughs’ tale be able to keep up and not seem stale compared to other new real world atrocities three issues later?
I’m betting it will. Russell is a much more subtle writer than you might think. His Jesus/superhero crossover comic Second Coming was an unexpected love letter to Christ and his teachings, with a message far less tear it down and much more We’re all in this together. There might be less of that upbeat tone in a dystonia world setting of moneyed madmen, but I’m open to surprises.
Not that I think that the story’s villain, social media mastermind Nick Canto of Aggrocorp Foods, will get entirely away with his island floating above international waters. Still, his best opposition in the story so far is one former contractor whose family were victims of Aggrocorp’s latest sterility/depopulation experiments. The only other challenger to his status quo is a journalist who quickly gets imprisoned on the island and placed in a giant hamster cage with former Canto employees still trying to get back in his good graces.
Though I find it funnier each time I reread it, the outlandish hamster cage seems to be the least inspired part of the first issue. Probably because the rest of the book feels all too real. To Steve Pugh’s credit, it still all comes together visually, and his strength for satire has already been seen with The Flintstones, his previous collaboration with Russell.
I’m sticking with Billionaire Island and encourage you to get the first issue as soon as you can so you can follow along. Though the dystopia earth in the book takes place in 2044, America’s current leaders seem determined to get us to the same place in a quarter of the time. Whatever comes down the news pipeline, there just might be a chance you’ll get to read about it first in this comic.