Advance Review: ‘Billionaire Island’ #1 By Russell, Pugh And AHOY Comics

by Olly MacNamee

Billionaire Island #1 from Mark Russell and Steve Pugh – the critically-acclaimed partnership behind DC Comics radical rework of a 60s classic, The Flintstones – are back together once again and doing what they do best: creating comics brimful of biting satire with more than a whiff of some truth to its narrative and characters, exaggerated or otherwise. The spirit of MAD Magazine certainly lives on in this new AHOY Comics’ series out this coming Wednesday 4th March.
By now anyone picking up any book Russell has written should know some of the legitimate targets that he takes aims at, and he’s certainly a writer who appeals to this particular reader with a tale that envisions a not-too-distant world readers will be more than able to relate to. A world in which the one percenters control the world (well, even more than they do already) with one billionaire in particular, Rick Canto, taking his abuses of power to the next level. 

Beneath the promise of a lavish, care-free lifestyle on a specially built gated community island for the mega-rich, there is a dark heart. Behind the tech-heavy security and surveillance drones – ready to kick anyone off the island who doesn’t meet their stringent criteria (i.e. if you ain’t absolutely loaded, you ain’t coming in) – there lies even more hidden dangers for anyone Canto doesn’t care for. And, as a care-free billionaire so used to getting his own way, he doesn’t care for a lot of people. It’s a look that many of us can see in many of the leading billionaires around the globe today, I fear. How often, in recent months even, have we heard of wealthy people – and in particular men – using their wealth and power to abuse? The murder of American-based reporter Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, Facebook’s continued allowance of far-right ground to use their platform, all dressed up under the pretence of supporting free-speech, and our very own Phillip Green here in the UK, who swindled countless of employees out of a job and out of a pension; there’s no end of evidence of immorality and being above the law coming from this class of people. No wonder we are growing increasingly more angry at these unelected world leaders. But then, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry and so Russell continues to poke the underbelly of Western society and its man-made ills. Sometimes it’s enough to know there’s someone out there who shares your frustrations and moral values. 
And so Russell and Pugh’s comedic comic book fights these immoralities with satire, even when the hate figure of Canto’s inhumanity is laid bare, it’s still done with humour. On this island – Freedom Unlimited – we get a glimpse at a fictitious future that isn’t too hard to believe, given how far removed such entities are in our own times from society, it’s not too far-fetched to believe this is a natural progression. I mean, we have billionaires enough who already own their own private islands, Why not go the whole hog and set up such an elitist community?

Bringing a level of seriousness to proceedings is a shadowy figure out for revenge on the wealthy oligarchs who continue to cause havoc in the world and all for profit and clearly one of two characters we are able to relate to. Our ‘everymen’ figure who will take his revenge out on our behalf. It’s the drama we need to elevate this book beyond the mere satirical and into the realm of espionage thriller, of a sort. A working man’s James Bond, but with gags aplenty. 
Steve Pugh’s level of realism also helps bring this story into a world that isn’t too much make-believe as you’d think , and also a level of emotions only an artist of his calibre can deliver. It’s good to see Pugh so ofter these days in good old comic books and it’s his diligence to realism that I felt helped The Flintstones to the heights fo success it achieve and it’s also the right style for such a story as this, keeping it grounded within the realm of belief. His mastery of facial expressions only helps the comedic tone, but also adds depth to the more dramatic scene that themselves have gravitas added to them thanks to the coloring work of Chris Chuckry.

But, our covert everyman isn’t the only possible fly in the ointment. Enter intrepid reporter Shelly Bly, a go-get-them type who has been given an exclusive and interviewing Canto on his Billionaire Island. It’s in these scenes that I think the comic is best summed up. It involves both drama and humour, as Bly finds herself surplus to requirements after taking up an offer of interviewing the recluse Canto, but I’ll leave it up to the readers to find out how he deals with herm and others, when you pick up your own copy this upcoming new comic book day. 
Another impressive debut issue from a writing talent I cannot believe has only been writing comics for a few years, but in finding veteran Steve Pugh as a willing partner-in-crime, they’ve come across a winning combination that, thankfully, have found the time to come together once again and tell it like it is.
Billionaire Island #1 is out Wednesday March 4th from AHOY Comics

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