Monday, April 23, 2007

Breathers #0

Breathers #0, April 2007, Just Mad Books
by Justin Madson

I felt like a child on the night before Christmas today. I couldn't wait for work to end (which is a rare feeling for someone who likes his job) so I could get home and tear into my Alternative Press Expo (APE) swag, which I promptly divided into three categories: promotional items (mostly business cards and flyers with websites and comics I'll look up later), zines and other materials for casual consumption, and finally comic books acquired specifically for A Comic A Day. Some of these comics were gained by trading some of my zines (more information about Far & Wee later), I actually purchased a few that made a positive visual first impression. Breathers #0 was one of the first that grabbed me, thanks in large part to the coupling of its simple title and accompanying cover image: an average Joe, seemingly distraught, wearing a huge gas mask hooked up to a laptop-sized hip device. Elegantly drawn and softly hued, I was instantly intrigued . . .

. . . and mildly deceptive. Creator Justin Madson's "springboard" story for his miniseries Breathers establishes a high end concept -- a world in which the air is simply no longer breathable and human are forced to wear personal respiratory devices to live -- not with an emphasis on that eye-catching, face consuming technology, but rather the man behind the mask. This "average Joe," with the unaverage name Koller Trick, is emotionally invested in an affair with a married woman, and while wondering the city in thought, he gets lost. Unfortunately, his lady love's husband finds him, knocks him out, and takes his breather. When Koller wakes up and realizes his situation, he stumbles through the city desperately, no one aiding him, fueled by the hope that his lover will help him. (Spoiler alert!) In the end, he falls and dies, ironically steps away from her apartment, where she sees him . . . and draws the curtain. Despite the odd atmospheric conditions (appropriate for a post-Earth Day review), this issue is very much a human story, and I simply didn't expect it.

Breathers would (and should) be classified as an "emo" book -- a tale that over-explores its emotional depths and pleads for your sympathy while trying to remain relevant and legitimate in spite of itself. It succeeds. I was entrenched in Koller's world, both through his breaking heart and soon-to-be shattered lungs. What happened to Earth that its air was unsafe to breathe, and in fact fatal? Would Koller reconcile the conflict of his heart, and, thanks to a few subtle clues, did his lover truly love him back? In Breathers #0, the reader is urged to sympathize with both personal and global desperation so compellingly, thanks to Madson's peculiarly yet charmingly disproportionate (and three-fingered?) human figures, the reading experience is darn near breath-taking. I will certainly pursue the series' first issue. But I won't hold my breath -- Koller, in all of his futile determination -- wouldn't approve.

Honestly, between my APE stash, the forthcoming Free Comic Book Day, and the old issues I have still laying around from past comic shop binges, I have plenty of material to last until June 30, the last day of the A Comic A Day challenge. In fact, I may have too many issues, which isn't a bad thing, if only I can get to all of the small press material in conjunction with the mainstream stuff I still want to review. Like Breathers, the challenge with projects like this is maintaining that balance between personal preference and real potential, between finely focused and big picture pursuits. Almost a year later, I still can't catch my breath!

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