In an anonymous megacity where pristine skyscrapers rise on the backs of the oppressed, the top agent of a cabal of ruthless investigators searches for a disappeared factory worker, and in the process uncovers a hidden secret that could jeopardise the stability of the stratified society.
It’s a common setup in dystopian fiction to have an emotionless enforcer of a brutal regime discover something that threatens to destroy his belief in the system he has until then upheld without thought. However, such is the intricacy with which The Needleman is realised, any overfamiliarity is forgiven. The nameless and faceless conurbation in which it takes place is one of uniformity and outward perfection that hides the emotional rot and human misery that maintains it, Metropolis by way of Dark City. Menial labour is carried out by a slave class so disposable they are referred to merely by alphanumeric codes stencilled onto frayed and worn clothing. In this despondent self-contained realm of dour monochrome, the only colour comes from the relentless amber glare of burning electricity that illuminates grey stone and black steel in mimicry of the shafts of sunlight that never seem to truly reach the level of the shadowed streets.
As protagonists go, the callous Agent Rasp is gruesomely compelling. As rail thin as the torture implement from which his titular designation is derived, he appears artificially crafted by someone aware of the shape of human beings without properly understanding them. Imagine Vincent Price as an undead hitman from a steampunk western, pallid grey skin lined so heavily to be almost caricature, with a barely perceptible moustache as a parody of distinctive features.
Although Rasp is the only character in the comic actually given a name, it’s possible that even this is impersonal, perhaps being a descriptor of unusual speech signified by the distinctive black speech bubbles assigned to nobody else. A man of unwavering precision and meticulous thought, the single barest allusion to self-consciousness is a brief pause to straighten his tie every time he makes a decision about what to do next. He’s a pitiless yet compelling creation you hunger to know more about.
The Needleman is a brief tale but one with wide scope for expansion. As we glimpse only a tiny fraction of what takes place in this vast urban forest, there is little sense of how, or even why, the purgatorial society actually functions, and any stories opening it up further would be most welcome.
THE NEEDLEMAN / WRITER & ARTIST: MARTIN ‘SIMO’ SIMPSON / PUBLISHER: SOARING PENGUIN PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW