Writer: W. Maxwell Prince
Art: Martin Simmonds
Letters: Good Old Neon
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: July 5th, 2023
Swan Songs is an anthology series with stories involving endings. The end of the world, the end of a relationship, etc. Swan Songs #1 is a story about the world ending and one man trying to keep his dying mother alive, even as the world outside has gone insane. It’s a horrific and sometimes touching tale that’s a solid beginning to the series.
The opening of Swan Songs #1 feels like the final chapter of a huge graphic novel. There’s not any narration or description to tell you what’s going on, but as you read along, everything falls into place. It’s jarring at first, but there’s enough here to still make the book an enjoyable read. The main characters of the story are Brian and his mother. Brian’s mother is in a hospital being treated for kidney disease, and Brian wants to do anything to keep her happy and comfortable, reading her magazines to lift her spirits. When he discovers that there’s a magazine available a few blocks away that his mother hasn’t read, he goes on an odyssey through the city to get it, having to deal with drug addicts and violent criminals along the way.
Even though the story doesn’t have a zombie in sight, the scenes in the hospital are very reminiscent of “The Walking Dead”, with signs posted everywhere with apocalyptic messages like “Out of order on account of the end times”. Brian is the narrator throughout the story and he’s wrestling with mental illness while trying to stay together during this horrific time. At many points during the story, he talks about his therapist, wavering from praising him to wanting to kill him and back again. He’s a dysfunctional person trapped in an insane situation, and as we follow him on his mini-odyssey across a few city blocks, we’re filled in on how things got this bad. We also find out he’s not against using extreme violence to defend himself.
The Atomic Clock (the clock that represents how much time is left for the world) ticks down throughout the story, a constant reminder that everything’s heading to oblivion fast. The book works as a horror story, an indictment of modern society and our medical system, and as a story showing the close bond between a mother and son. It’s a great first issue for the series and the scenes with Brian and his mother are especially touching, Brian’s simple act of reading gardening magazines to her making the world a thousand times happier for her. Gardening and flowers are a subtle but constant presence in the book, because when the end of the world is here, what’s more hopeful than planting a flower?
Martin Simmonds’ art on Swan Songs #1 is an impressionistic style that brings out the horror of a world in its death throes.
He draws the city (and the people in it) as totally broken-down and dilapidated. Some of them even look like monsters, twisted by years of heavy drug use and self-abuse. With flowers being a running theme through the book, even explosions are drawn to look more like a bouquet of flowers than as a destructive fireball. It’s great work that enhances the story.
If you’re looking for a fun and light-hearted story that’ll make you feel good, avoid Swan Songs #1. But if you’re looking for a dark tale with an apocalyptic setting, heavily drenched in horror and existential dread, check this book out. Recommended.