(Created by Jim Zub and Djibril Morissette-Phan. Written by Jim Zub, drawn by Djibril Morissette-Phan, colored by K. Michael Russell and lettered by Marshall Dillon. Published by IMAGE.)
GLITTERBOMB explodes at the intersection of character-driven storytelling, body horror, Hollywood expose and feminist revenge tragedy. Boasting well-crafted characters, incisive social commentary, and subject matter that sees it occupying its own unique space within comics, GLITTERBOMB distinguishes itself as one of the most compelling new titles of 2016.
Farrah Durante was once a darling of Tinseltown, but that ride was short-lived. After standing up to the wrong people, she quickly found herself tossed aside with shocking thoughtlessness and ease. Years later, as a frustrated and aging actor facing scrutiny and even derision for merely persisting, she struggles to find work and validation in an industry that deems her increasingly expendable. Her peers, agent, and environment at large dismiss her, with alternating disgust and pity, as a novelty for daring to work past her “sell-by” date. On her way home to her young son following an unsuccessful casting call, she takes a spontaneous detour to the beach to let off some steam. There, she feels the pull of something ineffable at the water’s edge, and as she wades into the ocean’s cool embrace, she finds herself the unwitting host to something sinister just below the surface.
Conceptually, GLITTERBOMB is compelling enough, but its real strength lies in the world it inhabits. Zub’s narrative is driven by the struggles and personalities of his characters, through fluid, natural dialogue and exchanges, and through their interpersonal dynamics, immersing the reader into Farrah’s day-to-day life. Zub captures the realities of life as an aging actress with painful accuracy, successfully conveying the grueling monotony of the Hollywood grind. He takes us through the endless, stressful cycle that sees Farrah navigating meetings with agents, securing auditions, forced interactions with scumbags and users, casual sexism, and generally running herself ragged just for the inevitable disappointment of losing a role to someone younger and more pliable. Farrah endures no shortage of disappointments, setbacks, and injustices, eking out an existence on royalty checks, and her story cuts deep; it’s a frustratingly honest reminder of how cruel people can be in a cut-throat, competition-based environment.
As Farrah hits one existential wall after another, her frustrations continue to build, and it becomes clear Zub is inching us toward a terrible breaking point. As Farrah is slowly overtaken by something, Zub keeps the pressure on with an ever-present undercurrent of foreboding—as well as strategically placed outbursts of a violent, supernatural sort—reminding us that Farrah as we know her is slipping further and further away. What exactly is happening to her is kept ambiguous, but it works as a powerful visual metaphor for the manifestation of the anxieties and resentments engendered by her world, and every time Zub seems to be taking things in an expected direction, he veers gloriously off-course, keeping the pages turning.
A major thread at the emotional core of the series, propelling the story forward, is Farrah’s relationship with her son, Marty, and his babysitter, Kaydon. Farrah is torn by her need to work and her guilt in spending many long, erratic hours away from her son. Kaydon, a teenager with bigger and better things to do, resents Farrah for taking advantage of her time while paying her infrequently, and for saddling her with the burden of caring for a rambunctious, precocious little kid. She sticks around, however, because she dreams of an acting career as an escape from her current life to something more glamorous, and sees Farrah as her link to that world. As Farrah’s own life stars to spiral out of control, her relationship with Kaydon takes a centralized role in the narrative, and Kaydon is sucked into the ensuing chaos.
Zub’s story is beautifully translated to the page by artist Djibril Morissette-Phan, whose intelligent visual storytelling complements the narrative well through expressive, realistic-looking characters, clever visual cues and adventurous panel composition. Morissette-Phan instinctively understands the importance of panel layout and sequencing in creating mood and implication. In any given issue, he can switch between subtle suggestion, as when he approximates the claustrophobia and hopelessness of Farrah’s crowded casting calls through narrow panels and quick transitions, to rapid-fire exposition in boxed-off, impressionistic, talking-head television snippets, to the much more overt, blunt force of the startling carnage Farrah finds herself unleashing with increased frequency. He offers no shortage of stunning action splashes, but is equally unafraid to let the reader grapple with a single, wordless image, leaving its significance and relation to the larger picture up to subjective interpretation. Overall, Morissette-Phan does a remarkable job balancing the restraint required for the emotional nuances and realism of the narrative with the more incredible nature of the supernatural and violent elements.
Whether it’s in those fantastical moments, or in the mundane, down-to-earth in-between, K. Michael Russell’s coloring boldly arrests the eye and rounds things out nicely. With a varied color palette at his disposal, Russell is an adept interpreter of mood, tailoring every shade and texture to underscore the specific tone of any given scene. When Farrah has a nighttime heart-to-heart with a friend on her balcony, Russell constructs a tableau of desaturated blues and muted grays, imbuing the exchange with a somber sentimentality. Later, as Farrah rides the bus, Russell enshrines her in color amid an otherwise dull and achromatic horde of commuters, emphasizing her progression from ordinary actor to something much more significant. Later still, at a swanky gala, we’re first inundated with violent, bright bursts of oranges and reds, all pomp and spectacle, evoking all of the extravagant decadence such an event might welcome. As the party lurches on, however, these bright colors gradually degrade, page by page, to nastier hues, as a warning of things to come. Russell’s coloring is at turns practical, sumptuous, purposefully showy and replete with symbolism, but no matter what it always serves the story. It reinforces all the right emotions and keeps the reader drawn into the story, satisfying on every page.
Finally, one of the most unique and distinctive aspects of GLITTERBOMB is its back matter. Each installment of the first volume of the series is backed with a frank and eye-opening essay from Holly Raychelle Hughes, a former Hollywood production assistant and writer for xoJane magazine. There are four essays in total, each offering further critical perspective on the ugliness of the showbiz rat race. These essays not only function as fitting companion pieces for the story proper, they carve out a space for a survivor and elevate her voice. Zub and Co. are not just paying lip service to the issue of sexism and exploitation in Hollywood, but are furthering the discourse by giving a platform to someone who has experienced it first-hand.
GLITTERBOMB is a lacerating indictment of a damaging, predatory landscape and a clever Hollywood horror story both literal and metaphorical, exploring what happens when the darkness we keep suppressed inevitably and calamitously erupts from within. It reminds us that ultimately, the scariest monsters are the ones that are real.
GLITTERBOMB Vol. 1: Red Carpet trade paperback is available in the US at comic book stores and other retailers, as well as digitally, March 1, 2017.