New To You Comics #61: ‘Crowded’ Volume 2

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Not always. Sometimes. Okay. Twice. It happened twice.

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to Image Comics’ Crowded Vol.2, by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Cardinal Rae, and Triona Farrell. Here’s what Image says about the book:

After escaping a televised attempt on their lives and blowing past two million bucks in their REAPR campaign, Charlie and Vita abandon Los Angeles for the desert paradise Las Vegas in search of answers. But between the human debris of Charlie’s past and the well-kept secrets of Vita’s old life, the only thing less likely than Charlie and Vita surviving their REAPR campaign is them surviving each other.’

Brendan Allen: It comes up frequently when we’re doing first volumes in this column, how much we wish we were also doing the second volumes. Then it hit us one day that we totally could. I thought this was as good a time as any to bring this one back around, since the entire third arc will be released sometime this year in trade paperback to wrap this sucker up. 

Crowded Vol. 2 takes the Charlie and Vita show on the road. Specifically I-15N, as the ladies try to leave all the murder behind in La-La Land. There isn’t a much better place to hide than Sin City. Weirdos EVERYWHERE. No one will even blink at the girl with pink hair, her tiny rat dog, or the angry gun lady. 

They do have to get from one city to the other, and travel is a bit of a sticking point, with Charlie actively trying to sabotage Vita’s best efforts to keep her upright and breathing. Does Charlie want to die? Because Charlie is acting like she wants to die.

First impressions, Tone?

Tony Thornley: This was interesting for me because I’m really kind of torn on this one. It’s still the very fun, hyperkinetic, ultraviolent book that we talked about a year ago. And I like that part. But… well… I need to process the “but” as we talk a little bit.

Brendan: Christopher Sebela did a fantastic job of pacing out the first story arc, just teasing out enough information to keep everything weird and awkward between the protagonists. A few pieces here and there, but generally, we only learned about characters as they were also learning about each other.

That carries into this second arc, where Charlie and Vita are starting to finally open up to each other a little bit as they dodge bullets and nunchucks and tire irons and bombs and stuff. On a speeding train in a death tube.

Tony: Okay, that I really liked. After the first arc, where they were barely better than caricatures with an underlying depth (which isn’t a bad thing for a first story arc to get you hooked), Sebela does a great job of fleshing them out.

Several issues in this volume are much slower, giving Charlie and Vita time to get to know each other and connect, which allows us as the reader to get to know them better and connect with them. It’s sneaky and I like it.

Brendan: This is where the curtain starts really getting jerked back to show us where Vita’s coming from. Charlie gets her liquored up, and the characteristically reserved Vita becomes shockingly open about her past, her present, and even a few of her future hopes and dreams. Who is this kid, and what have you done with Slatter?

She’s either really, really drunk, or that pink haired hooligan has finally worn her down. Probably some of both. Anyway, the liquor and the new chemistry lead to some really great character moments.

Tony: Yes, I definitely enjoy that quite a bit. There’s a natural evolution to their relationship over the course of the story that really props up the entire plot. That’s definitely the high point of this volume.

However, I do struggle a bit with how formulaic this volume felt. There’d be one issue where they head into a new setting, connect over the course of the issue, then the issue ends with a cliffhanger that things are not as safe as they’d hoped. Then they’d spend the next issue getting out of it. Then repeat. It’s not bad, but it got a little predictable.

Brendan: Of course there’s a formula. It’s an action-chase-comedy-murder-mystery. You know Charlie and Vita aren’t going to eat it until at least the end of the third arc. And I honestly wouldn’t put it past Sebela to kill them both in the end, to break up the pattern. 

Tony: Yeah, I know, but that part of it just didn’t quite land for me.

Brendan: On the visual end, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, and Triona Farrell bring that signature cool and airy Crowded aesthetic into the second arc. The story is incredibly dark, but you wouldn’t know it from the art. 

I mean, dudes are getting kneecapped and stuff, but in a really light and fun way.

Seems like Vita got leaner and more muscular in this arc, and Charlie got slightly more rounded and voluptuous, but that may just be that they’re spending a lot more time nude or near nude.

I don’t even know who to credit for those diegetic effects, but that integrated Ka-Boom in the opening sequence that starts as muzzle flash and ends as blood spatter? How about that fire stream that spells Woooooooosh? Dead brilliant.

Tony: The entire art team did stellar work in this arc. One thing I really liked was how Stein and Brandt switched up their style just a little bit with each new setting. As they left LA on the hypertrain, things were a little more exaggerated and flowing. In Vegas it leaned slightly more realistic. Farrell even got into it. In the bunker cult story, the colors were much more subdued, even for Vita and Charlie. It kind of lulls readers into a false sense of security until the climax of the arc is just exploding with color.

Brendan: Oh, and Charlie’s tech bro billionaire friend’s hotel? Definitely a giant penis.

Tony: That was hilarious and I’m stunned that Vita didn’t point it out in dialogue!

The art really was the highlight of the whole book. The writing was still a lot of fun, but the art team just did purely stellar work. It’s cartoony, exaggerated in all the right places, takes a step back when it needs to and in general is just a lot of fun.

Brendan: I love everything about this series, and can’t wait until the third arc finally drops this year. It was a real bummer how many books came to a screeching halt in 2020, for completely understandable reasons. I’m really happy that the Crowded team is getting the opportunity to pick it back up and give it the blow-off it deserves, by releasing the final arc as a trade paperback in 2021. 

It sounds like you weren’t completely blown away this week, but let’s hear it. What’s your final verdict on Crowded Vol. 2?

Tony: Yeah, I didn’t like it as much as volume 1, but I would absolutely still recommend it. It’s a totally solid and enjoyable read at worst, and an uproariously funny action farce at worst. 

Brendan: That’s a lot of words to say it’s not your favorite, but it’s still awesome. I’ll take it. What’s up next from your queue?

Tony: We’re going to hit another volume 2 from early in the column, and check out the second half of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Brendan M. Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.

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