In heroic fiction, there’s always another twist on the way to a final victory; in reality there’s always something new to endure in the course of just staying alive. Compromised, complicated heroes are a commonplace of comics since the mid-1980s, but writer Gail Simone is unparalleled in facing the consequences of conflict from the point of view of those without power.
Leaving Megalopolis is a post-apocalyptic narrative of the type we’ve become used to from zombie and vampire flicks and the daily feeds from Ferguson and Katrina-era New Orleans. But less like Walking Dead and more like Missouri, Megalopolis is about a menace not from those we consider “other” than or “under” us, but above — a glittering city’s superhero population has gone rogue, hunting down civilians in a blasted, now almost-dead urban wasteland.
In the trials of the classic band of survivors, attempting escape and encountering brutality and betrayal in the present while just as slowly marching away from guilt or abuses in their past, we see how both the highest heroism and the worst monstrosity can be the work of everyday humans.
The abandonment of Detroit and the shooting of refugees fleeing flooded New Orleans are each explicitly referenced, and Leaving Megalopolis is a grim parable of having no authority to count on and the logical conclusion of dismantling government. But also of the necessity of individuals truly relying on their own resources and moral authority, not to be “left alone” but to find connections with each other; I can’t think of a braver mainstream comics writer than Simone, and I can’t remember when I was as emotionally invested in an end-times drama as I am in this one.
Artist Jim Calafiore does a horrifying, heartbreaking job of portraying the city’s ghostly greatness and the inhumanity of its inhabitants both super and human. Great attention and understanding has gone into the archetypal references in his design of legends gone wrong and his conception of unnoticed and unsung ordinary souls at their best, their worst and their lost, precious everyday.
I won’t reveal what “turns” the superheroes evil, but it coincidentally reminded me of what seems to have happened to Nix Uotan at the end of The Multiversity #1, and the moral of Megalopolis is that the worst that can befall us happens not from “going bad,” but from giving up. Simone is a definitive storyteller and compassionate witness who puts you in the center of the action and herself at the side of your struggles, and will not turn away.