Former casino dealer Jack has been coerced into becoming a pit fighter and must regularly battle in glorified gladiatorial combat against people driven insane by mutation. In a position reminiscent of Rollerball’s Jonathan E, his unexpected and unprecedented popularity has inadvertently turned him into a symbol of hope and resistance against the oppression of the city’s sadistic overlord.
In a medium saturated with stories about zombies (which is basically what the mutants are), the comic wisely relegates them to a background detail. The focus of the story is on the people and what the collapse of society turned them into. Austin is essentially a modern day reimagining of Ancient Rome: a decadent plutocrat rules the city, the people live in varying states of misery depending on their social status, and all are distracted from the wretchedness of their lives by the life or death bloodsport of the arena. As Jack raises his sword in feigned deference before a battle he might as well be declaring “We who are about to die salute you.”
Almost the whole story is told in flashback, telling the story of how the world slowly went to hell alongside Jack’s development, both psychologically and physically, from charismatic card shark to a dead-eyed urban gladiator hardened to the point he is practically a living granite statue, the two points so far apart in appearance and attitude you can barely recognise them as the same man.
The character artwork is far more detailed than you’d expect for a comic book, with lines on people’s faces accentuating their features and giving them a photoreal look, while the brutal violence, both of the frenetic struggle of arena fights and the examples of casual brutality that has become the norm, is showcased by regular blood and gore shown stark in a thick greyscale of heavy shading.
The climax comes fast and is over quickly, but it serves to reaffirm the uncaring and uncompromising world in which people must now live, while also setting up things to come in the developing series. Like the man said, what’s past is prologue, and the upcoming second issue, Wasteland Ronin, will likely fully immerse us into Bust’s vision of the bleak and violent desolation of the future.
BUST #1 / WRITER: DAVE COOK / ARTIST: CHRIS O’TOOLE / PUBLISHER: SELF-PUBLISHED / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW