I’ve always had a fondness for 70’s/ 80’s cinema or a particular strain of 70’s/ 80’s cinema namely the bleak or darkly satirical dystopian sci-fi that seems to be associated with that period. Whether it’s George Miller’s Mad Max, John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, Roller Ball or The Running Man . There’s always been something inherently appealing about works that portray the collapse of society due to some cataclysmic event or other, this is often combined with humanity’s repressed darker side coming to the fore as demonstrated brilliantly in the latter of the films mentioned above. Roller Ball features a brutal sport played by armoured sociopaths in a dark future with looming corporations casting a shadow over everything, The Running Man meanwhile features a lurid gameshow where contestants have to run for their lives whilst armed assailants hunt them down and try to kill them.
Both the above films are a play on the classic “bread and circusses” phrase, the idea that the general populace can be appeased and distracted by some grand spectacle often as a smokescreen for some heinous acts being perpetuated by those with power, this date back to the Roman empire with its infamous gladitorial contests.
Suiciders from the duo of Lee Bermejo and Matt Holingsworth is a brilliant example of this idea in the form of a comic. Set in a dark future after a massive earth quake referred to as “The Big One” hits the West Coast and decimates Los Angeles, the U.S Government turned its back on the city leaving survivors to fend for themselves.
Now 30 years later the city of New Angeles is thriving thanks to the popularity of brutal bloodsport Suiciders, a televised contest which pitches opposing gladiators enhanced by drugs and technology against in each other in an arena full of deadly obstacles trying to kill them.
The world Bermejo has created sounds like the best 80’s film never made ripe with potential and perfectly suited to the modern world which is becoming more and more like the dystopian future featured in the Running Man every year. The main character of Suiciders first issue is The Saint a charismatic but equally enigmatic fighter. One of the identifying features of The Saint is the large tattoo of St Michael slaying the Devil on his back which is a keen insight into the mentality of the fighter. The idea that the fighters have their own pit crews which prepare their armour and weapons is an interesting touch too.
The fights themselves though ,which feature enthusiastic commentators and an arena with garish neon lights depicting the word “KILL”, are just the backdrop to a larger story featuring the contrast of the life in and outside of New Angeles which is surrounded by a vast wall patrolled by guards with an underground market for smuggling people across the border.
Even if the story wasn’t so rich with potential this would be worth noticing for the phenomenal art. Lee Bermejo has done some amazing work in the past both as a cover artist and as the artist for graphic novels like Batman: Noel or limited comic series like Before Watchmen: Rorschach. Together with colourist Matt Hollingsworth Bermejo has produced what is one of the most visually stunning comics you can pick up. Suiciders shows that DC’s Vertigo imprint might not just be living on past glories after all.