Art is one of humanity's most universal methods of expressing how the world makes an individual feel, and that is at the core of Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment's Heart Attack. Right from the first page, the creative team declares their intention to attack the heart of what they believe to be society's most significant problems. Heart Attack #1 presents a future where some of the young have developed superpowers, but they still struggle with problems that a modern reader can relate to, from trigger-happy and racist police to monetizing a social revolution to the loss of connection.
In Heart Attack, writer Shawn Kittelsen (Mortal Kombat 11, Injustice 2) and artist Eric Zawadzki (The Dregs, House of El) have created a world that was once struck by a Great Outbreak, a pandemic that killed more than a billion people. In order to stop the Great Outbreak, the world adopted a fringe procedure that, through genetic editing, boosted the immune system of all patients. Although the procedure successfully quelled the Great Outbreak, it also had the unforeseen consequence of causing some newborns to present Variations -- this universe's version of superpowers. The first issue does not present a great number of these, but they seem to range from relatively harmless, such as the ability to have warm hands, to the significantly more dangerous, such as telekinesis.
In response to these Variations, the government of America created the Variant Control Unit (VCU), a crack police squad aimed at keeping the Variants in line. The Variants are both afraid of the VCU and frequently defiant of them. The main Variant group presented in the first issue is known as the Freebodies. They aim to raise awareness of their kind by hosting massive parties and broadcasting on their own streaming network. At the start of the story, a prominent Freebody is detained for defacing a VCU poster. Charlie, her friend and one of the protagonists of the first issue, escapes and records a video of the interaction, which then goes viral. The rest of the story is triggered by this initial incident.
Kittelsen has very carefully and intentionally crafted the world of Heart Attack to be a mirror of our own. The VCU are brutish, racist, and quick to escalate the level of violence. The Freebodies are little more than an expansive social media activist group, seemingly more intent on having a good time and selling merchandise than actually creating lasting change for the world as a whole. Their leader is more of a savvy salesman than a revolutionary. While he is quick to mention his contributions to the cause, he is even quicker to offer Charlie a drink, and his official title as the 'founder and CEO' exemplifies this perfectly.
The Freebodies are just another bloated business wearing the veil of social justice. Only when Charlie and Jill, the other protagonist of the issue, begin to realize this do they have their first true moment of connection. This leads to one of the most fascinating splash pages in recent memory. It comes as a complete shock and is so intricate and well-presented that it alone is worth the price of the issue.
While this page is certainly the highlight, Heart Attack #1 is still a visual treat. Zawadski's art suits the modern yet human story that Kittelsen is trying to tell. This is complemented by Michael Garland's (New Mutants, Leviathan) dynamic and interesting color work, making everything from the vibrancy of Jill to the authoritarianism of the VCU officers distinct and engaging to read.
Like the duo on the cover, the world of Heart Attack is looking to smash through the wall of public perception and gut-punch some perspective into the populous. The first issue gives tantalizing glimpses into the problems facing Charlie, Jill, and the rest of the Variants. With a host of well-realized characters and a slew of unanswered questions surrounding them, December 18th cannot come quick enough to allow us to see what happens next.
Heart Attack #1 is on sale now.