A credo which bares repeating is that as difficult as initial installments of any fictional story are, a sequel can be even more challenging. The task which the creators have is to develop a tale which feels as much a part of the world of the first part while also offering something new. Mediocre sequels merely repeat the story of the first tale with a bigger budget and some altered details, while inspired sequels flip things on their ear. Following the success of their initial comic via Kickstarter and an alliance with Insane Comics, writer Dave Cook and artist Chris O’Toole (of the U.K. based Card Shark Comics) are ready to face that challenge had on with a sequel to last fall’s pulse pounding effort, “Bust”. The end result is another gritty and violent black and white affair which offers thirty-five pages of excitement to readers across both shores.
Set a decade after the first installment, readers are reintroduced to Jack, the sword carrying ex-card shark turned zombie gladiator from the opening tale. After having seemingly avenged his family and destroying the empire set up in Austin, Texas by ruthless billionaire Eddie Scott. Unfortunately, staging a revolution after the zombie (or, “mutant”) apocalypse has reduced the continental United States to a feudal era is hardly the end of a story, but the beginning. Jack’s attempt to run a free society eventually turned into anarchy and he abandoned the city to become a “wasteland ronin” (a samurai without a master). Plagued by nightmares of the family and friends who died for his freedom (some at his own hands) as well as driven with an unending desire to aim his violent impulses at those who deserve it, Jack’s only comrade seems to be a prostitute named Eve in New Peach Orchard, Arkansas. However, his life of wandering and stockpiling equipment underground soon gets a rude awakening when he becomes the target of a sadistic biker army called “the Smilers”. Organized by a middle manager named Chuckie and his disfigured henchman, the first soldiers they send after Jack wind up falling right into his trap. However, Jack’s attempts to find information on his new enemies not only lead him towards meeting the young and tech-savvy Lillian (or “Lilly” for short) but joining forces with what little is left of the federal government. Can the two of them, as well as a handful of FBI agents, possibly escape with the one thing (or person) that the hidden President of the United States values most? And even if they do, is it only a respite from an entire legion of crazed lunatics?
Despite the original premise involving a plague which either killed people or transformed them into “muties”, very little of that actually turns up in this second installment. Instead most of the focus is on Jack himself and the enemies and allies around him. More “Mad Max” than “Walking Dead”, Jack has to be careful about who he can trust and be ready to attack at all times. He may be a “hero” if only due to his targets being “evil”, but does that alone make him a good man, or a troubled soul who at least aims his carnage away from the innocent when he can? The addition of Lilly adds some much needed levity to some of the grim story as well as gives Jack someone to interact with who he also has to work alongside to prevail. The Smilers are all fairly one dimensional – sadists with an endless zeal for carnage who earn their fates – but such villains are typical of post apocalyptic sagas such as this. Unlike Eddie Scott, who was a member of the “ruling class” who merely capitalized on the end of order to become more of a tyrant, Chuck and the Smilers are anarchists from the “lower classes” who want to destroy whatever order is left in gruesome fashion. The black and white art by Chris O’Toole may be even better this time around than it was in the previous “Bust”. He gets to draw more characters (especially Smilers, who all look distinct), vehicles, and different locations this time around. Jack is recognizable despite his drastic redesign and O’Toole is able to perfectly depict a gritty post apocalyptic American south in every panel, from dingy hotel rooms to the open road. Dave Cook was willing to take a risk by having so much time pass between installments and rely more on human anarchy rather than zombies, but this seems to make the drama more suspenseful. While there is still plenty of action and gore for those craving it, the horror is more subtle this time around as Jack faces a menace of the people from within rather than rallying people against a tyrant above them. Lilly is a great new character who provides what many a grizzled tough guy has relied upon in fiction – a plucky sidekick who fills a tactical need they lack.
This issue is due to see print from Insane Comics in April, and at thirty five pages will be almost twice the value for the cover price than most comics produced by virtually any other comic book company. It offers a very unique take on a well worn genre and terrific execution of timeless themes. Keep an eye out for “Bust 2: Wasteland Ronin” this spring!