Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Alexandre Tefenkgi & Nick Dragotta (Pages 29-30)
Colorist: Lee Loughridge & Rico Renzi (Pages 29-30)
Letterer: AndWorld Design
Release Date: November 23, 2022
Reviewer: Lukke Sweet
The world as we know it is over. At least in Once Upon a Time at the End of the World #1 by Jason Aaron. This exciting new series introduces readers to an apocalyptic wasteland overrun with garbage, radiation, and mutated monsters. On the run from an unknown threat, Ezmerelda, a.k.a. Mezzy, is alone. And trying to survive in a sinking rowboat. That is until her boat succumbs to damage and sinks, leaving her stranded outside one of the few remaining skyscrapers. Little does she know but her life is about to be turned on its head, the tower isn’t uninhabited. It’s sole resident is Maceo, a naive man oblivious to the dangers of the world outside his tower, and Mezzy is the first woman he’s ever seen.
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Jason Aaron kicks off the trilogy, Once Upon a Time at the End of the World, with Book 1: Love in the Wasteland. It’s a strong start. Aaron sets up Mezzy and Maceo as complete opposite, juxtaposed in their experiences with the world. Mezzy, running for her life, only teases what she’s running from, but from how determined she is, it can’t be good. Forced to flee in a rickety rowboat, running out of food, her tenacity is admirable in the face of danger. Holding her own as she’s attacked by a tentacled monster, it’s clear that she is fiercely independent, obstinate in her independence.
Maceo has had the exact opposite experience with his survival. Locked in a tower and able to defend himself from whoever, or whatever, attempts to break in, Maceo lives an easy life. He’s surrounded by food, clean water (or at least shelf-stable soda), and has plentiful entertainment at his fingertips. He wants for nothing. Nothing except a family at least. He’s lost his parents but lives in a state of complete denial, refusing to accept their loss. Awoken by his alarm system, he’s ready to destroy what he thinks is just another invader from the Acid Swamps, until Mezzy removes her mask. The first woman he’s seen other than his mother, Maceo is immediately smitten. He decides to save her rather than protect himself, and acts like a lovesick puppy as they come face-to-face.
Aaron plays up the dynamic between the two for an utterly entertaining story that focuses entirely on the characters themselves. The apocalyptic world of Once Upon a Time at the End of the World is merely scenery, providing context without being a major focal point. It’s definitely been implied that the world will be explored in more detail over the next few issues, and from the groundwork that has be laid, it has huge potential. Overall, it will be exciting to see where Aaron takes the rest of Book One, especially with the last page reveal of the first issue.
Once Upon a Time at the End of the World #1 has two sets of creative teams: Alexandre Tefenkgi & Lee Loughridge take on the first 28 pages, while Nick Dragotta and Rico Renzi tackle the final two. The switch between the teams matches one of the major story beats of the issue and is an absolute perfect fit with regard to tone and content. Tefenkgi’s lines throughout the story come across as slightly cartoon-y, which sounds as though it should be off-putting for this type of book, but isn’t. The style lends itself well to the story, matching Maceo’s energy and personality to a T, while it heightens the sense that Mezzy is a fish out of water in his world. Paired with Tefenkgi’s art, Loughridge colors the pages in a muted color palette, almost dusty feeling. The colors drive home the point that this is not the world that we know today, but one that is old and tired.
On the final two pages, Dragotta’s linework shifts away from the soft lines and edges of Tefenkgi and leans hard into sharp and angular. Instantly, the tone and feel of the book changes, the stakes feel much higher than they did before. Gone is the innocence present in the rest of the story. Renzi’s color choices follow this same pattern. Where Loughridge’s colors were muted, Renzi’s are highly saturated, feeling as if they’ll bleed right off the page. It will be interesting to see how the coming issues will handle the artwork and which style it leans into more.
A hardened survivor is rescued by an innocent shut-in and both of their lives change forever. Once Upon a Time at the End of the World #1 takes place in a fairly standard post-apocalyptic world, but the setting is the perfect backdrop for the story of these two characters. Strong characterizations and the dynamic between them shows that big things are in store for Book One of Aaron’s planned trilogy.