Publisher: Nobrow Press
Release Date: December 14, 2016
Price: $18.95
Creator: Wren McDonald
Format: 120 pgs., Partial-Color, 7"x10", Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-9106-2012-0
Age Rating: Mature
ICv2 Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

SP4RX is a new graphic novel from cartoonist Wren McDonald (Cyber Realm).

As literary genre fare, dystopian science fiction appears on par lately with vampires, werewolves, and any other host of manufactured, carbon-copied, recycled plot devices if one only looks at the shelves of comic book stores or the popular young adult novel series-turned-cinematic cash grab films of recent years.  Finding an original voice within this turgid sea of potboiler swill is rare as hen's teeth.  Yet Wren McDonald has not only found a way to produce a truly original contribution to the dystopian genre, but also to create a story that syncretizes numerous predecessors and influences while simultaneously critiquing them.

SP4RX is the story of a young hacker living in a media and corporate-controlled world of cybernetic implants and intense social and class gentrification.  But what appears as a simple mashup of nearly every cyberpunk film from 1995's Hackers, 1999's Matrix, to the very present, is much more nuanced and humorously pastiched.  In fact, for most readers, SP4RX will call to mind more Tron, Akira, and the worlds of Philip K. Dick in terms of narrative and visual stylings and beats.

The world of SP4RX is taken straight from the post-apocalyptic realms of Judge Dredd's Peach Tree housing project in Mega-City One--Avalon is a constructed complex of multiple levels.  It is in Avalon that McDonald weaves together a social experiment by Structus Industries to provide the poor with cybernetic implants to make them more competitive with their robot co-workers as well as more efficient and thus financially secure.  As SP4RX navigates these levels as a hacker for hire, he is introduced to an underground resistance W.R.A.I.T.H., a fellow hacker Mega, and discovers that Structus's welfare program is more nefarious than anyone could imagine.

What is truly fascinating about SP4RX is how it is a melting pot of styles and influences.  Visually, there are hints of Moebius, Dave Taylor, Geof Darrow, and Ulises Farinas in the world of Avalon McDonald has built.  At the same time, as a cartoonist, McDonald's dynamic and accessible character design also showcases the indie, small press work of Tom Herpich and Jessie Moynihan, perhaps better known for their storyboard artistry on Adventure Time.  If that were not enough to convince readers, McDonald also reflects the humor and sincerity Brandon Graham shows with King City and Multiple Warheads.

This is a brilliant graphic novel from Wren McDonald.  What he has created with SP4RX will hopefully yield additional stories within Avalon.  Nobrow has already proven its viability and presence as a publisher of high-quality, original comics and the inclusion of McDonald continues that important tradition.

--Nathan Wilson