There’s something paradoxical about Los Angeles as a city. Right beneath the neon lights and the glitter lies a deep layer of decay and loss. Under the bright California sun lies both buildings of glass and steel and abandoned, empty buildings of eras long past. It’s a city of hopes and dreams, both simultaneously fulfilled and unfulfilled. Thus, it is of no surprise that LA has inspired film and literature for nearly a century, and after living here for only a few months, I understand why this is the city of film noir.
Consequently, after reading Ed Laroche’s post-apocalyptic Almighty, I was not surprised to learn that he has lived in this City of Angels for his entire life and that Almighty was released in 2008, the year of the modern economic collapse we remember most.
Set in a wasteland hill and plain then mutant city possibly in California in 2098, Almighty grabs that sensation of lost hope and despair ever rampant in LA and pulls it to the surface. After a devastating economic collapse in the future, a new Great Depression arrives. And in addition to the crippling economic failure leaving people homeless and without any infrastructure to re-create the society they knew, a major military conflict stifles any potential to return to normalcy, and an experiment has gone very wrong, leaving an entire section of the region filled with infantile mutants covered in boils who were once human but now roam the desolate streets looking to tear apart animals and returning to a great mother for sustenance.
As expected with any great economic downturn, some people attempt to sustain themselves on meager means while others resort to crime. In the world of Almighty, those who resort to crime band together as a group of paramilitary vultures, bringing terror to the people who bypass their headquarters far outside of the city and picking off whatever they can from their victims. On one of their attacks on an RV filled with supplies, the group, known as Golden State, capture Del, a volunteer medic, after they murder everyone else in the vehicle. Held prisoner for days, she finally tries to escape, but her captors stay quickly on her tail and confront her.
However, as the captors narrow in on Del, an unknown guardian and protector fires from an unseen location, allowing her to survive. After the blink of carnage that eliminates seven of the captors on Del’s trail, Fale, an androgynous woman, emerges from the tall grass in the field to the clearing where Del lies to explain she has been hired to rescue and return Del home. Immediately, the two jump on Fale’s bike to begin the long trek back, but unfortunately, that first battle will be the easiest one the two will encounter for the rest of the rescue mission.
Most of Almighty focuses on the grim state of the world through the eyes of Del and Fale, with Del as the crestfallen and jaded idealist and Fale as the ultimate survivor and mercenary. Both are new to this world of all lost hope, and both try to adapt and maintain their own humanity as the line between human and animal blurs. As a result, the mission of Almighty serves merely as a framework to the plot; the meat of the volume lies in all of the post-apocalypse terrors they encounter and the consequent effects on their relationship as humans in a dying world.
For a graphic novel set in catastrophe, Almighty has an enormous amount of restraint. Laroche never overburdens the dialog, and he presents every moment of violence and action with an incredible amount of detail and viscera but quickly balances it with a moment of reflection or assessment of the damage done. In addition, the visual style of the volume follows a similar ebb and flow, with action sequences drawn with a sharp style with disorienting and unstable energy and more narrative sequences drawn with a more static, calm style. Reading Almighty feels like a natural harmony between stress and rest and despair and hope.
Ultimately, Almighty explores the fundamental question of what exactly draws the line between human beings and animals. By setting the story in a world where society has been broken, Laroche can ask that question without the frivolities and the pseudo-stability we find in our civilized world and hone in on an answer when that line of humanity is truly tested. He offers his answer in the graphic novel, but as with any great work, he leaves you the room to decide on your own.
Almighty exploits our greatest fears of when the world goes wrong in a large metropolis and, through its horror inspired methods of removing the blocks of civilization that we have become so familiar with, forces us to think about what lies beneath all of the baubles and the images we create for ourselves. As I wander through this land of image myself, I wonder what lies beneath all of the sparkling glass and gold as well. To get a hint of my answer and the one Laroche has proposed with Almighty, you only need to look to the abandoned theaters and offices with decaying ornate plaster and gilded molding in almost every neighborhood in LA, and soon you will see.
Almighty by Ed Laroche is available via Blackhalo Productions.