Ryan Ferrier is a writer who first made a name for himself with his self-published series Tiger Lawyer, and who first entered my radar with gritty ’70s-style exploitation revenge thriller The Brothers James. And now he’s back with a new series from the increasingly prestigious MonkeyBrain Comics, D4VE, paired up with artist Valentin Ramon. The first two issues of The Brothers James impressed me, but if those were an example of an emerging creative voice still refining itself, then D4VE #1 stands as Ferrier’s most polished work yet.
There isn’t much forward plot motion in this first issue. There is a little, but it’s ominous strains going on in the background for the most part, seeds waiting to flower down the line. But what we do get is backstory, world-building, and character, character, character. The dominant force in this first issue is our title character, D4VE. Ferrier gives us a fully-realised character, incredibly relatable, who ironically enough feels like one of the most recognisably human comic protagonists of the past year, given that he’s a robot. Once, he was a world-saving hero, but now he’s an office drone, beaten down by a bullying boss, a nagging wife and a son he can’t relate to. It all feels like a bit of a parable for how a creative personality can be worn down by the mundane realities of life, which strikes a chord for a starving writer such as myself!
In a wider sense, Ferrier seems to have a few interesting things to say about the human condition, using non-humans to illustrate his point. This robot master race that conquers Earth, then the cosmos, ultimately chooses to settle into mediocrity and the mundane, blind consumerism, because they feel it is expected of them, because it’s what humans would do. There’s this real poignancy in the imagery of the robots – formerly warriors, or explorers – shuffling down the unemployment line looking to be assigned a cushy office gig, or sitting across the breakfast table with a bride they have nothing in common with, doing all this stuff that crushes them just because it’s what is done. It feels like a really bleak Charlie Brooker style commentary on empty consumerism and our ultimately unfulfilling lives.
Of course, a big part of D4VE’s personality is conveyed through his “acting”, or how he’s brought to life by artist Valentin Ramon. And Ramon does a fantastic job. D4VE has no face, and yet Ramon is able to project onto that blank canvas joy, sadness, confusion, boredom, frustration, despair. Just in general, it’s one of the coolest character designs of the year: the bashed, scuffed metallic exterior of a robot clothed in rumpled, not-quite-fitting human work clothes. Across the board, Ramon excels in doing things with his almost entirely robotic ensemble cast to make them come across as expressive and engaging – the expression of one open-mouthed patron at a robot strip club in particular is a hoot!
As far as the world-building goes, once again, Ramon delivers the goods. The whole aesthetic of this opening issue feels reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil: that’s the touchstone that kept on popping up in my head. Just the idea of this overblown metropolis juggernaught filled with whirring cocks and gears and endless work quotas – cast in stark contrast to the rich dream life of its downtrodden protagonist – put me in mind of that movie classic, and it’s always a good thing to be compared to! Together, Ramon and Ferrier have created a nuanced, compelling world, with an intriguing history and a highly likeable character at the centre of it all. Everything is well positioned to have us well invested as the plot gears click into place in issues to come.
Ferrier deserves major kudos for D4Ve #1. From Tiger Lawyer to The Brothers James to this, he’s always upping his game, and he seems to be on a career trajectory that should comfortably take him to fronting his own Image book within a couple of years, should he choose to go that route. But perhaps the real discovery of this first issue is Valentin Ramos, whose slick visuals are laced with character and emotion. Both creators are on my “to watch” list, as is this series. Another win for MonkeyBrain!
D4VE #1 is available to buy on ComiXology from next week. Pre-order it here.