It’s been almost two years, but writer Christopher Sebela and artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt have returned to wrap up their near-future/dystopian/assassination/romcom. You know, that old genre. Having previously released the first twelve chapters on an issue-by-issue basis, the team took a hiatus so that they could release the last six issues of their creator-owned book all at once in trade paperback form. While it created a longer wait, it’s always comforting to see a team be able to finish a story on their own terms.
For those who need a refresh, Crowded is the story of Charlie Ellison, a mess of a woman who finds herself targeted by a Reapr campaign, a legal app where people can crowdfund assassinations. Anyone can kill the target and collect the money, and Charlie’s contract quickly rises into millions of dollars. Charlie hires Vita, a low-rated but highly efficient bodyguard from the Defendr app, to protect her until the contract runs out in thirty days. The two flee across the country with their stolen dog, encountering all manner of amateur and professional would-be assassins along the way. Though the two couldn’t stand each other at first, they eventually formed a relationship.
The story picks up right where we left off, with Charlie and Vita having parted ways due to Vita not sharing the romantic feelings that Charlie has for her and Vita being fed up with her client’s selfishness. Charlie hires Circe as her new protector, not knowing that Circe has been hired to kill Charlie, but has become obsessed with the pair while following them around. These final issues explore the complex dynamic of Charlie, Vita, and Circe before thrusting us into the end game. Secrets are unearthed, the origin of the Reapr campaign is revealed, and characters from throughout the series unite to try and save Charlie’s life.
If you’ve become as enamored with these flawed individuals as I have, then this last arc should be a satisfying conclusion, as the characters’ confrontation with their own issues takes center stage. Charlie and Vita both started the story being able to expertly avoid talking about their past or their feelings, and some of the best parts of the comic have been when the two are forced into being vulnerable with one another to survive. Crowded may be a satire on how app culture is dehumanizing us, but it isn’t afraid to stop and get serious when proving the irreplaceable value of human connection.
This does mean there isn’t as much wild action that was previously a hallmark of the series, but there’s still room for a few well-done set-pieces. I also missed some of the hidden gags that previous arcs had. Little jokes in the background like “Kremlin Kreme” and “Ru Paul’s U-Haul” were ones we’ve seen before, though “Nose Punch DeBROderant” is amazing, and I’m surprised it doesn’t actually exist.
The dystopian elements remain a mix of eerie and comical, like an endangered species zoo boasting that they have a cow or a mirror in a restaurant that won’t buffer. But we also learn that America might not be all bad, as the group travels to an oasis the queer community built for themselves in a state you might not expect unless you love a good/cheesy pun. This is all drawn incredibly by the art team. There is a lot of dialogue in this book, so the panel layouts and character angles do a lot to keep the pace from dragging.
Overall this is a really fun series worth reading from start to finish. The characters pop off the page, and the near-future world-building is built extremely well. It’s no surprise that a film adaptation has been in the works for years. I just hope that with all the flashy car chases and carnage, they don’t forget to keep in all the heart that was in this book.