"Wasteland" #39 is an entertaining issue with a great amount of accessibility. Antony Johnston goes a long way to make this stand-alone issue completely approachable and wholly enjoyable for a new fan as much as a longtime reader with 38 prior issues under their belt. I haven’t read all of "Wasteland" yet, but little prior knowledge is needed to fall completely under the spell of this group of children as they navigate the perils of the desolate world left to them.
The story centers on a trio of children: Michael, Marcus and Mary. They wander the landscape and survive as best they can. It turns out their best is actually quite good because they are each adept at delivering death. This isn’t an exploitation action story but rather a realistic survivalist tale of even the youngest survivors doing whatever they need to in order to stay alive. Michael is far more inured to death while Marcus is wet behind the ears. Mary, however, is the wild card of the bunch and her inclusion between these two nascent masculine figures is both their salvation and downfall.
The violence in this issue is sudden and always feels necessary. Johnston isn’t painting a landscape in haphazard blood. In fact, the book is black and white and as such the violence feels muted and utilitarian. The youths don’t revel in their ability to deliver death, but have simply made their peace with it long before the opening pages. However, such pseudo-poignancy doesn’t rob these sequences of their energy. Seeing threatening scavenging men die is like watching a dark war film -- you never want to cheer, but rather you endure what you must for the greater result.
Sandy Jarrell’s art is stark and simple and thus perfect for this bleak landscape. He doesn’t overly render the images and so his line work is more emotional as it pops on the page. The expressive faces sell the threesome and their quarrel at the heart of this issue. The greatest compliment for Jarrell is that he makes it look so simple when in fact multiple intricacies play across each page.
"Wasteland" #39 is an example of what more comics need to do: a standalone issue for new fans to try and see if they like the creative juice on a title while still world-building to entertain older fans. This issue of three youths living warped adult lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is an emotional journey brought together by knife fights and emotional betrayal and confusion.