In Frank J. Barbiere and Christopher Peterson’s “Broken World” #1, the end of the world is nigh, as an inevitable extinction-level event looms only hours away. College professor Elena Marlowe has a past she’d rather not discuss but, in the present, she tries to live as normal a life as she can on the eve of the imminent apocalypse. As humanity is evacuated off-planet — at least the ones the government allows — Elena deals with her family, her students and a past she hopes won’t catch up with her, as Barbiere and Peterson put together an emotionally taut tale as the chaos breaks through into the last stable areas of Elena’s life.
It’s a situation that’s summed up on the very first page, with four cryptic words by Barbiere and a threatening scene emblazoned on a colorfully charged splash page from Peterson. Readers haven’t been introduced to the players yet, but Peterson’s emotional image of a family awaiting their fate hand-in-hand is enough of a hook before the story even gets started. Barberie does indeed start things off immediately thereafter, taking the story back two days to establish not only Elena’s situation but also a broad overview of the situation on Earth. The disparate views are summarized between Elena, who wants to do whatever necessary to get government approval to leave, and Fletcher, a forgery expert and conspiracy theorist. TV news voiceovers provide all other necessary exposition.
As Elena makes her way to work, Peterson further captures the mood of a world ready to end, or at least one side of it; a long view of the college campus shows that it’s all but deserted, as ominously colored skies loom overhead. The handful of students who remain and show up for class all do so for their own reasons, which Barbiere uses to examine the world’s current social climate. It’s also an effective demonstration of how the social order is collapsing by the minute, as the upheaval reaches Elena even as it’s discussed in her classroom.
Barbiere then examines Elena’s relationship with her husband and child and impressively generates a convincingly normal chemistry between the family members within the span of a couple of pages. The relaxed characterization makes for a strong dynamic that genuinely seems like a normal family dealing with the decidedly abnormal situation that threatens them. Her young son Danny has that perfectly innocent childhood naÃ¯vete, blissfully unware of the dire situation that’s on the verge of literally destroying his world. Elena is impossibly strong in front of Danny but can barely keep it together once he’s safely in bed.
Peterson draws up a final splash page that’s a poetic parallel to the opening page. It’s his layouts that are the strength of his art; his lines capably carry Barbiere’s story, but his understated panel designs tell plenty more, to the point where Barbiere doesn’t need to verbalize many of the situations.
With the stage pretty much set by this point, the story charges forward towards a completely unexpected but enticing twist that changes nearly everything.”Broken World” #1 is an amazingly strong start to what’s slated to be a four-issue miniseries, with a premise that’s strong enough on its own but is made even stronger by the surprise cliffhanger.