Biting satire with something to say
Review: Billionaire Island issue one
Written by Mark Russell, Pencils by Steve Pugh
Following up a successful series is a daunting task for comics creatives, especially if said series is as well-received as Mark Russell’s Second Coming. Russell’s new Ahoy title Billionaire Island sees him working with previous collaborator Steve Pugh. Thanks in part to this collaborative effort, the book manages to keep up with the high standard Russell has set for himself.
Set in 2044, Billionaire Island portrays a world where out of control climate change leads to a series of natural disasters and with it an influx of climate refugees. As the sea levels and anti-rich sentiments rise, the ultra-wealthy take their escape to an artificial island off the coast of New Mexico. Set in international waters with no rules, Freedom Unlimited is a place where they can escape the coming apocalypse. That is, unless a would-be assassin is unsuccessful in his attempt to storm the island and take down its owner, Rick Canto. The first issue gives us an introduction to the island, through the avatar of Shelly Bly, a journalist who ends up captive there.
As this might suggest, Billionaire Island appears to be the kind of biting (and quite mad) satire that made Second Coming and the new series is similar in tone. The series has a nice range, from sight gags to biting jibes about the state of the journalism industry (“I’m Shelly Bly, the reporter from the Miami Herald?” “I didn’t realise that was still a thing.” “Miami?” “Reporters.”) There are also some nice instances of nuanced commentary, especially about how the wealthy convince others that their interests are best served by advocating for the super rich. In this story, a group of captives on the island fight for the residents’ entertainment, and yet believe that they will be rewarded if they do what their wealthy overlords want.
Steve Pugh’s artwork on Billionaire Island is clean and crisp yet manages to fit several little details. A subtle nod to Action Comics’ first cover on page two is just one example of the nice touches Pugh sneaks in. There are a number of great set pieces, and sections where the layout meets the script perfectly.
Issue one does much to introduce the setting of Freedom Unlimited itself, establish the main villain, and set up the series’ status quo. The issue breezes by, and if anything, this is the book’s major flaw: like many single-issue comics, it almost feels like the story isn’t long enough.
As well as having a somewhat idiosyncratic concept, Billionaire Island’s liberal dose of swearing and violence means that it’s not a comic for everyone. And yet, for those in the comic’s target demographic, the first issue will be a breath of fresh air and Insights strongly recommends it to anyone looking for biting satire with something to say about the dystopian future we’re seemingly facing.
Timely in its approach to climate change, income inequality, and sexism, Billionaire promises to do to the uber rich what Second Coming did to the co-opting of the Christian faith.
Billionaire Island Issue one is available now at comic bookstores and online at Comixology.