It’s about time I reviewed an actual comic book on this blog. Much like the unusual route for a scripted sci-fi podcast being turned into a graphic novel, the route for this review is unusual. In my podcast listening, I’m fairly standard in my enjoyment of the ‘people talking to and at each other about stuff’ (see my various posts about podcasts). In contrast, my wonderful partner is a big fan of scripted dramas for her audio entertainment – the BBC Sounds app and the Libby app are in constant use while she is creating her art. She was looking for something new, and I’d read good things about the Bubble podcast and thought she’d like it (she loves sci-fi more than I do); she listened to it, loved it and then bought the comic book adaptation, which she urged me to read.
The bubble of the title is the city of Fairhaven, a domed safe area maintained by a corporation in the middle of the Brush, an unforgiving alien wilderness, in which native monsters (known as Imps) exist with rogue humans who don’t want to live in the city. Our protagonist is Morgan, who was born in the Brush but raised in the Bubble – she has an undemanding desk job doing social media, but she uses her off-time to kill the occasional Imp and then let her roommate Annie use the Imp to create recreational drugs as a side hustle. Two things cause her life to change: a delivery guy (who happened to have been on two dates with Annie) in their apartment is accidentally transformed into a Brush-powered mutant, and Morgan’s company launches an app called Huntr, which aims to disrupts the Imp-extermination process into a gig economy. Now, she must deal with more monsters and citizens turned into monsters by Brush factors, the most popular Huntr on social media who is also her ex-boyfriend, her father (with whom there are unresolved issues) and a boss who is hiding some truths, and who happens to be the woman who brought Morgan in from the Brush.
The first thing to say is that the art is great. Cliff has a lovely art style and does a wonderful job of portraying this mix of ordinary and extraordinary – some of the alien vistas are stunningly beautiful, with gorgeous colours from Riess – while handling the dialogue-based nature of the story (it’s adapted from a podcast, after all). Because the story has been worked on for the podcast, all the characters are tightly delineated and fully realised, and Cliff has a strong handle on their distinctive natures, which really sells the story. The storytelling is dynamic and the action scenes are sharp and lively, and Cliff does some wonderful stuff with page composition, such as the double-page spread that moves the characters through an underground scene, and plays around with the form in an imaginative manner, such as the panel where Morgan is pushing aside a word balloon full of boring text from a dull man trying to chat her up. Cliff does a really good job and contributes a lot to the book than a simple adaptation – he talks on his website about how he was given the script and worked out how many comic book pages it would take, he calculated 350–400 pages, so in collaboration with the writers he had to condense it down to the 240 pages of story that now exist.
The second important point to mention about the book is that it is very funny (‘You dick. Don’t try to have a catchphrase.’, ‘Star Trek! A reference I’m cool with!’, ‘Men like us? We have a lot of opinions. And podcasts. Lots of podcasts.’), very sweary – not a book for kids – and extremely violent, which makes for an entertaining read. I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, so I don’t know if it’s all straight from the source, or if it’s a new mix between Morris and Morgan (who has written a lot of comedy stuff on BBC Radio 4 that I’ve enjoyed), but it certainly works.
The only slight stumbling block I had initially is the incongruity of a science fiction setting of an alien world full of monsters with humour and references that are all contemporary – it doesn’t make any sense that these people would be talking about Frasier or Mario Kart or Ultimate Frisbee (or the lovely joke of Thank God or Whatever It’s Friday restaurants). However, once you get past that, you can just enjoy the book for the ride that it is. And that is a satire on the gig economy, the power of corporations, the unstable nature of the general economy and the struggle for young people today. Quite an achievement for a comic-book adaptation of a scripted sci-fi podcast.
Bubble is a very good book with great art, a good story, funny lines and a point to make about our society – I’m so glad I recommended the podcast to my partner in the first place.