I’ll admit, I found Drones #1 to be a rather confusing experience on my first readthrough. My first impression was that this was a war comic with incredibly well-realised, credible soldier dialogue from writer Chris Lewis. I actually recall thinking that this guy has either meticulously researched how military personnel interact on the field, or that he was a former soldier himself. Either way, Lewis did a very commendable job of immersing me in a believable world.
Then, all of a sudden, things get strange. And after what I can only describe as a hallucinatory experience, we’re not in a war comic anymore. Well, we are still dealing with participants in a war, but they’re located in Las Vegas. And we realise our story is set to follow the adventures of a group of drone operators, hence the title. I do think the jarring disconnect is intentional, as it’s something of a reflection on the inherent strangeness of some of the stuff modern technology allows. But then we seemingly jump back to a war setting, and the highly credible, naturalistic presentation of our opening gives way to a depiction of terrorist baddies that are outright cartoonish. And as segments intercut and mesh and fake casino theme-terrorists overlap with real ones, it all becomes very hard to follow, and I as a reader started to lose track of what was a war and what was tacky Vegas theatrics. By the end, I was left with the impression that I didn’t have a clue what I’d just read, but I somewhat liked it nonetheless.
On rereading, and on looking at the synopsis for the series, it does seem like Lewis was striving to create this sense of bewilderment to comment on the bizarre existence of a drone operator, fighting a war on foreign soil in America, taking human life without leaving “the office”. And that’s a tricky balancing act to pull off. Because even if you succeed in leaving the reader confused about what is real and what isn’t and that does the job of effectively putting you in your protagonist’s mindset, it still leaves you with a comic where you don’t quite know what’s going on. And while a Brechtian emotional remove can encourage some readers to assess the comic in a different way, there’s a risk that it might make many readers just give up and walk away.
The plot is a bit scattershot, but some consistency in tone is maintained by the artwork of Bruno Oliviera. His manic expressions and scratchy, wildly animated bodies make the comic feel permeated with a sense of barely-restrained lunacy that works quite well with what I believe to be the intended tone. There are a couple of clumsy areas where the dialogue doesn’t quite match the expression of the character saying it, or the transitions don’t quite help us coherently follow what’s going on, but for the most part it’s a lively, animated style that keeps things moving along nicely. He’s done some really slick, minimalist covers for the series, too.
The team is rounded out by the strange, dayglo-vivid colors of Cabral and the dependably solid E.T. Dollman on letters: it seems he’s lettered quite a lot of the books reviewed on this blog, and he might not always get mentioned, so I’ll say that letters are often something that marks a book out as amateurish when they’re done wrong, and Dollman knows how to do them right.
Overall, Drones is a tricky book to recommend. It doesn’t really come together in a way that makes sense to me, not yet at least, but I don’t really know if it’s supposed to. But there are enough individual scenes, ideas and characters that intrigue to suggest this might come together into something worth reading. An odd curio that could be worth a look, if you’re an adventurous sort!