Jack, the grizzled warrior of post-apocalyptic America’s wasteland, has found himself the target of roving gang the Smilers and their unhinged leader Sackcloth, so named due to the clown-painted burlap head covering that hides a scarred face. By chance Jack has also become the guardian of a little girl named Dawn, who may hold the key to civilisation’s future and so must transport her to safety.
As well as a band of madmen to deal with, there is also the issue of Jack’s encroaching madness. Tormented by hallucinations of ghosts from the past and the memories of all the people he couldn’t save, his resolute determination has now crossed the line into feral ferocity. Possessing the will to do whatever it takes to stay alive is one thing, ripping apart a mutant wolf’s jaws with your bare hands in a fountain of blackened viscera while your eyes blaze with incandescent fury is quite another, and as he succumbs to the rage of the killing machine he forced himself to become, whatever empathy remains in his shattered psyche is being gradually eroded.
This time the supporting characters get more of a chance to come to the fore, in particular the unflappable tech genius Lily and the young Dawn. In an interesting development the latter is revealed to be deaf, and a rather neat touch shows the sign language dialogue as coming from the hands of those using it rather than their mouths, while one panel from Dawn’s perspective has a speech bubble’s lettering contain only a few meaningless lines to portray the muted muffle that is all she can make out of spoken words.
The maniacal villain Sackcloth is a grotesquely enthralling creation, and actually comes off more than a little reminiscent of the Joker, not just from the painted mask and quite clearly being utterly insane, but the madness having a dangerous focus that could seemingly snap without warning at any given moment. There is also some intriguing but tantalisingly non-specific history between Jack and this maniac hunting him, vaguely hinted at but yet to be fully revealed.
Unlike many post-apocalyptic series where overwhelming despair has made way to lifeless drudgery, in the world of Bust humanity has not quite decayed to the point where everyone has simply given up, and some people are yet to be beaten into submission by the harsh reality of the new order and still fight to make the world a better place. For them, life still nurtures a tiny spark of optimism, which in a way actually makes things worse; while there exists the potential of a new beginning, it equally runs the risk of being cruelly snatched away, leaving the promise of a restored world crumbling into ash. That Bust straddles this line between hope and desolation keeps the series as tense as it is compelling, and with two more issues remaining there’s enough time for events to swing either way.
BUST #3: A SACKCLOTH SMILE / AUTHOR: DAVE COOK / ARTIST: CHRIS O’TOOLE / PUBLISHER: CARD SHARK COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW