Missing The Boat Vol.2 #2: NYC Mech

Hello everyone and welcome aboard The BOAT. I hope you all enjoyed our stop in the land of SMALL GODS last week. I got a lot of positive response on the piece, so I’m guessing most of you did. I also heard from Jason Rand and Juan Ferreyra (the writer and penciler of the title respectively) who informed me that the first issue of SMALL GODS has in fact sold out! They’ve also agreed to an interview with yours truly”¦so be on the lookout for that in the near future.

This week we’ll be staying in the Image Aisles, as we continue to look at a few titles that you should really check out. This week’s port of call:

NYC Mech

So what can I say about NYC Mech that hasn’t been said before? Well, a lot actually. Tragically, it seems that most people have completely missed out on this truly innovative title, but I’m here to rectify that.

“Eight million robots walk the streets, but this isn’t science fiction. This is New York City, top to bottom, from a basement in the last Brooklyn ghetto to the clouds above a penthouse suite on Park Avenue. These are robots in agony, ecstasy and everything in-between, searching for love, sex or just enough spare change to get them through the day.”

This introduction is all you have to go on when you open the first issue of NYC Mech. Similarly, it’s what you’re left with at the end of the issue as you question exactly what you just read.

After finishing the first issue, I was left with the same feeling I’m sure most first-time readers have, “what was that all about?” Instead of trying to completely wrap my head around it, I decided to move on to the second issue. Once I finished the second issue, and pondered a bit about the first arc as a whole, it hit me. Underneath it all, NYC Mech isn’t really about robots at all, it’s actually a very real look inside human nature.

Now, with that said, there are many more questions asked within the pages of NYC Mech than are answered (namely why everyone in NYC is a robot), but isn’t that the real fun of comics? Finding the answers as we go. Or even better, trying to figure out the answers on our own. Lately, it seems that comics are more about shocking people, or just retelling old stories instead of creating fun/interesting stories that really make the reader WANT to keep reading, or more importantly talk to other people about what they’ve just read.

Without question, this title is unlike anything else currently on the comic store shelves. NYC Mech aspires to break its comic book moldings and teeters on the edge of “literature.” However, while Mec’s allegorical nature is one of the book’s greatest strengths it could also be its biggest detriment. A lot of readers delve into comic books to help get away from reality. They’re looking to escape reality. And while Mec’s sci-fi “persona” is very well done it isn’t carried through in typical sci-fi fashion.

NYC Mech is a modern day Greek tragedy that forces us to look at the darker side of humanity by hiding it behind a cybernetic façade. Readers looking for BLADE RUNNER or I, ROBOT won’t find any sort of “man versus machine” story here”¦not even close. They will instead find a gripping “man as the machine” story. By taking the human equation out of this very human story Brandon, Gunter, and MacDonald have provided us with a chance to look at the human condition free of emotional strings.

Once I finished the first arc and started thinking about why these robots were killing each other for drugs and money, the epiphany hit me. “Why do we (humans) do these things?” And while we won’t find the answers within the pages of NYC Mech, the fact that this comic book got me thinking about such metaphysical concepts impressed the hell out of me.

By this time, I’m sure each of you is thinking about one of two questions. You’re either saying, “Wow this sounds interesting. Tell me more, and more importantly how do I get into this series?” To which I shall respond by saying, “first read Chris’ wonderful review of Issues 1 & 2, and then head down to your local comic shop to see if they have any issues in stock. As for the story breakdowns: Issues 1 & 2 make up the first arc, while 3-6 make up the second. If you can get them all, they’re well worth it. Otherwise jump on at issue 3, or at issue 7 when the next arc starts up.

Now, as to the other question you might be asking, “So, you’re telling me this comic is about “everyday life” in the Big City, but with robots acting like humans?” To this I have to say, “Yup, that’s exactly what this series is about.”

When I decided to get behind this book (and promote the hell out of it), I knew full well that it wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking. Hell, as Mr. Brubaker said about SLEEPER, “I don’t expect this book to make it into the top 30″¦it’s not for everyone.” Like many of the unconventional titles on the shelves today, NYC Mech isn’t going to appeal to your average comic reader. As I said above, most comic readers are trying to escape the grim reality of life, and won’t be much interested in an allegory hidden behind a sci-fi veneer.

This point was just highlighted in the book’s most recent issue, inside the letters page. A reader, who will remain nameless, wrote a rather long letter blasting the creative team for having “nothing insightful to say,” and continued on by calling the premise of the series nothing more than a “superficial gimmick.”

Now, before I comment on this letter specifically, and this mentality in general, I want to say that this reader has every right to his opinion, and I can even see where he’s coming from. However, without trying to be rude, this reader completely missed the point of the series. NYC Mech isn’t a book that should be skimmed through or even read one time and tossed into the “read” pile. Much like “classic literature,” the beauty of NYC Mech is that when you’re done reading an issue the adventure has only just begun.

NYC Mech is a title that inspires and fosters critical thinking (hell I’d go as far as to say it requires it). If you stop short, and read only the surface stories presented you won’t even crack the series’ metallic shell. I think it’s safe to say that not too many people would be interested in a comic series that focused on a bunch of “normal” people leading their lives, with these “slice of life” stories Mech has been showcasing. However, when you change these people into robots the idea becomes genius.

With the simple act of placing robots into these very real human situations Brandon and Gunter have thrown the door wide open to critically showcase every social condition and situation imaginable, without offending the reade’s human sensibilities. More importantly, they achieve this lofty goal in spades by delivering captivating stories that entertain and enlighten all at the same time.

As we prepare to bring this week’s edition of The Boat back into port, I want to take a minute to comment on one aspect of the series’ I haven’t really hit yet. The art. While I’m going to try and avoid filling an entire paragraph with adjectives praising Andy MacDonald’s wonderful artistry, I do want to make it known that NYC Mec’s art is a major draw all on its own. I’ve seen it said many other places, and as cliché as it may be, Mr. MacDonald is headed to the big time!

In this world of eight million robots, Andy has done a tremendous job of making each one look and feel unique. Andy is just as comfortable drawing a group of (robot) friends sitting around playing cards as he is drawing full on action splash pages with anarchy ensuing. (And do I have to even comment on all those wonderful guest-drawn covers?!?)

Well, that just about does it for this week. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this little look into a book that strives to break the typical comic book conventions. I honestly can’t recommend this title enough (it’s in fact the very reason I decided to start this whole column up again). But again, I have to stress that I know full well that it won’t be for everyone (even as much as I and the creative team may want it to be). Past the “robot stories” there is a high concept that has to be embraced to fully enjoy the book. Hopefully my little primer here will prepare and intrigue readers to go out and give this title a shot”¦it truly is deserving.

As always, any comments/reactions to this or any previous edition of this column are always welcome, as are suggestions for future editions.

Till next time”¦

Daron Kappauff