'The XII' takes us into familiar wastelands

There's a theory that the American obsession with the apocalypse stems from Manifest Destiny: As settlers pushed west, they encountered things that would strain the threads tying them to civilization. Storms rolling across the flat plains could be seen from man miles away, and they posed a considerable threat to the livelihoods of entire communities. During the pitch-black night, there would be ominous noises --- frightening howls, thunderclaps, maybe even the unexpected sound of a human voice.

There would be precious few things you can do in a world where law is stretched thin, except keep a well-stocked cellar and a loaded shotgun.

That may explain why a lot of North American post-apocalyptic fiction tends to look like the Wild West. While we may think we're too cool for cowboys and Indians, it may have just morphed to satisfy the primal survival instincts of modern thrill-seekers. After all, aren't armored, nomadic warlords just bandits and desperadoes with a shiny new coat of paint? It's probably no accident that The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes dressed a lot like a frontier sheriff, or why the women in Katniss Everdeen's district look as if they stepped out of a little house on the prairie.

Post-apocalyptic fiction is a way to tell the same stories. Cheesy elements like singing cowboys are ditched, and modern elements like burned-out cars and abandoned suburbs replace wagons and ghost towns. Still, most stories keep some of the most familiar elements unchanged.

The writer behind Sol Comics, Patrick Trahey has already penned a couple of short stories that were illustrated by different artists. His protagonists are generally cut from the same cloth: Whether they're on the run from bounty hunters or trying to escape the psychological turmoil as depicted by a struggle of angels and demons, these men seem to be both desperate and self-reliant.

Most recently, Trahey started a series called The XII with artist Luis Suarez. The title group is a clandestine organization building a society among the ruins of Chicago through power and brute force. The faces are obscured by ominous gas masks, which give them an inscrutable alien appearance. They're introduced as silhouettes with the bright light shining behind them; Suarez's crisp artwork has its roots in animation, and his illustrations give these killers a mysterious and seductive allure.

In direct contrast is The Father that this first issue is named after. He lives with his family on a parcel of land that looks like a lonely homestead. The land is protected by a rickety fence; loose pieces of plywood are scattered on the roof. Food is canned and pickled and stored in the cellar. Pa tends to the crops while Ma cooks in the kitchen. The only clue this isn't set during the 19th century are roof-mounted solar panels, which replace the usual windmill.

It's a story that's just getting started, too. Trahey plans to run The XII for 40 issues --- or more than 1,000 pages. If you were looking to jump into a story about survival is a lawless world but find webcomics with deep archives to be intimidating, check out The XII. It's shaping up to be a fine place to start.

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