Little Bird #1 Review: Save the World
There’s a revolution to be fought, only Little Bird’s mother is missing, her home is in ruins and she’s left with sparse, desperate instructions: Free the Axe. Save the people. Free the north. Save the world.
So that’s what she tries to do.
Story: Darcy Van Poelgeest
Art: Ian Bertram
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Design: Ben Didier
Publisher: Image Comics
Van Poelgeest doesn’t pull any punches in the beginning about this not-so-distant American theocracy. The oppressive machine in Little Bird is brutal, bureaucratic, cruel and ridiculous, and Van Poelgeest adds a lot of absurdist, gruesome detail to illustrate the immediate and very high stakes in Little Bird’s world. Not everything’s on the table, however. First issues have a lot of work to do to hook a reader and balance world-building with tension, and Van Poelgeest and Bertram choose to drop the reader in mid-conflict, with no choice but to follow Little Bird as she attempts to make sense of it all while fulfilling her mission. It’s an elegant and effective storytelling device when done well, and Little Bird does it exceedingly well.
All this, and more! In addition to all the uncomfortable jabs at fascism in architecture, the nature of mental illness, treatment and institutionalized violence, and the collective illness of nationalism, Little Bird is unabashedly weird. Van Poelgeest’s and Bertram’s imaginations are off the charts when it comes to character designs and concepts. At times the world closes in and Little Bird feels appropriately dwarfed by her costume, but at others it demonstrates her potential and helps her take up space in a brutal world. Colonialist religion and Dune-esque fanaticism get a deeply unsettling tech upgrade, and without delving into spoilers, let’s say that their God’s glory in action through the will of humans is pretty terrible. Character faces are wildly expressive, and Bertram’s cartooning has an absurd edge that doesn’t detract from the book’s deadly serious stakes. Every character in the holding facility gets a unique physical design, and the bright lights and soft colors in that scene lend a nightmarish surreality to those scenes. Grim humor comes in quick vignettes. Little Bird’s aesthetic feels like it’s just a layer or two of skin deep, and all of Bertram’s delicious linework, detail and careful composition make this book a stunning read.
Panel borders are hand-drawn and very fine, with some irregularity in the beginning and in Tantoo’s later scene that cleverly morphs in and out of the regimented borders of the intruding empire and Little Bird’s desperate mission. Gutters are minimal, and the white feels stark in a way that amplifies the story. Bertram plays with a lot of fun framing for the book’s characters with an unerring focus on comics composition, and proves that fine art sensibilities can mesh very well with our wild and very weird world of sequential art.
Hollingsworth’s colors skew toward pastels and some muted earth tones, but all that red is a real stunner, too. It could be easy to overwhelm Bertram’s fine line and careful, wiry details with color, but Hollingsworth is adept at enhancing scenes and choosing one or two brighter colors to pump up the volume and shock value. There is more than a little blood in this book, as revolutions don’t come without a cost, but Hollingsworth really makes it count. No death in this first issue is sensationalized or meaningless on the page, even if the overall commentary might be skewing in that direction, and that’s a very hard balance to strike. Like Bertram, Hollingsworth is incredibly versatile: there are night scenes lit only by dreamy fires, cruel rosy dawns, neon tech overlays and ghoulish violence, and they’re all done exceptionally well.
Bidikar’s work is always a joy, but picking up a book like this means we’re in for a real treat. Hand drawn balloons compliment Bertram’s panel borders and art style, and each font Bidikar chooses is perfect, from the regular dialogue to Little Bird’s narration to the creepy and disjointed robot speech that pops up later. Further, Bertram’s got some really lovely sound effects on the page, and Bidikar meshes emphasized speech and what look like a few added effects almost seamlessly. It’s not an impossible task, but it’s always a real bummer when you can tell what’s been drawn and what’s been added later, and there’s a risk to slapping a clean digital effect over intricate art. Bidikar does what he does best in Little Bird by giving us a clear path through Bertram and Hollingsworth’s visual feasts that allows for some breathing room without sacrificing any of the story’s urgency.
Overall, Little Bird #1 is a dinger of a first issue and promises to be a mesmerizing read. We just have four issues to go and the road is littered with myriad challenges that are almost impossible to predict. Will we learn more about Little Bird, or is it about the world itself? Does her world obey the laws of rational thought, or will it go completely off the charts?
Will the revolution save us, or will it fail?
All this and more await us, and with such a feverish first look at hand Little Bird’s certainly got my attention. Pick it up on March 13th wherever fine comics are sold.