Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: INJ Culbard
Price: £12.99 (UK) $17.99 (USA)
This graphic novel reprints the following stories:
- “Hate Box” – (Prog 2150 – 2169)
First appearing in 2016, Brink has been one of the most innovative and atmospheric series to come out of 2000AD in the past decade, thanks to the combined talents of scriptwriter Dan Abnett and artist INJ Culbard. After evacuating an inhospitable Earth, humanity now finds itself living in the cramped confines of overcrowded space stations and dealing with the psychological pressures of a life amongst the stars without a planet to call home. Brink follows the exploits of no-nonsense investigator Bridget Kurtis, who has uncovered multiple conspiracies during her time as a HSD officer, resulting in her becoming promoted to the head of ‘Major Crimes’ in Salma Hab, her childhood habitat. When a series of frenzied murders become public, Kurtis finds herself on the verge of uncovering yet more conspiracies and a potentially deadly new threat to the fragile sanity of those who live on the brink.
Spread over twenty episodes in the weekly Progs, this fourth volume “Hate Box” definitely runs at a measured pace that runs contrary to the fast-paced episodic adventures typically found in 2000AD. As such, it reads a lot better in these collected editions, especially since Abnett tends to layer his narrative with lots of subtle clues and call backs and it is much easier to flick back a few dozen pages in a graphic novel, compared to digging out old Progs. Dialogue drives the action here for the most part and entire episodes could focus on a tense conversation between criminal and perp, yet remain equally as gripping as an episode of bullet-laden instalment of Judge Dredd. Abnett does a fantastic job at world-building through just dialogue and his own language and phraseology – a technique he also utilizes well in Sinister Dexter. Taking his inventive use of dialogue a step further, Abnett introduces the titular hate boxes, the love-child of swear jars and Amazon Echo, which censors bad language and charges potty-mouth offenders a dollar fine for the privilege. First brushed off as another futuristic quirk, it soon becomes pivotal to the plot and Kurtis’ investigations – just simply brilliant storytelling.
Abnett’s script, as strong as it is, is just one part of the chemical equation that makes up Brink, the other vital aspect of this compound is INJ Culbard’s utterly amazing artwork. Culbard’s garish neon vision of the future captures the claustrophobic griminess of the habitats and the frustration and resentment that fuels a lot of the crimes that the HSD must deal with. There are countless influences at work here, although some “Otomo” graffiti on the walls suggests that Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga and anime Akira is one of the lead inspirations behind Culbard’s work. As with previous volumes, Culbard’s panel construction plays as vital an element in the storytelling as Abnett’s script and the actual artwork itself, creating a sense of movement and pace to an action sequence or heightening the tense atmosphere in a conversation. Even when little appears to be happening, Culbard creates a momentum to proceedings, ensuring that things never slow down. It reminds me of the directorial flourishes seen in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and how the cinematographers for those shows can make the most mundane sequence feel nail-bitingly tense.
Four volumes in, and the overarching ‘big picture’ behind Brink still remains a mystery, but all of these seemingly unconnected cases that Kurtis has investigated seem to point back to some external influence; be it space gods, collective insanity or microscopic viruses from Earth wanting revenge on humanity. The joy of Brink is that it isn’t predictable in the slightest, and that odd blend of procedural sci-fi and Lovecraftian horror radiates a truly unique atmosphere. “Hate Box” continues that trend, treading the tightrope between science and supernatural, with the suggestion that a viral video clip that could drive its viewers insane. Introduced as another one of Abnett’s genius ideas is the concept of Worldporn; old documentary footage from Earth that would inflame such feral nostalgia amongst its viewers that it is considered as illegal as snuff and other obscene materials.
By returning Kurtis to her childhood home, Abnett makes this particular investigation more personal than the previous cases and we find out more about Bridget Kurtis and her motivations to become a HSD officer. Kurtis is extremely likeable, as is the tenacious yet timid Tunde Weyowa, her partner for this adventure. Abnett does a tremendous job at the characterisation of all his creations, giving a realistic and distinctive voice for each character – especially Kurtis. She deserves to go down in 2000AD history as one of the most dynamic and fearless females the anthology has ever produced – standing alongside Halo Jones, Judge Anderson, Venus Blue-Genes and Durham Red. As the final few episodes of this storyline turns a bit “Hot Fuzz” and Culbard’s skill as a choreographer comes out, I was once again struck by how cinematic this series is. With its slow pace building to a crescendo, Brink seems perfect for a TV adaptation down the line – perhaps for one of the ever-growing streaming services out there? Whilst we wait for that potential green light, the first three volumes have already been adapted into an audio drama and is available exclusively on Audible. I might finally activate my long-dormant free trial and take a listen…
I would never have considered a procedural detective drama a natural fit for 2000AD, but Brink blasts all expectations and potential criticisms into dust; the series is simply spectacular and ground-breaking for all the right reasons. I’d say it is a spiritual successor to The Ballad of Halo Jones, mostly due to the way it continually bucks the trend and tells its own story in its own time. While it might be divisive amongst audiences due to its slow-burn approach, Brink is one of the most rewarding strips out there, paying readers back in dividends for that extra time and attention invested.
Four volumes down, and with a fifth on the horizon, Brink shows no sign of slowing down and in my opinion, it is the best series running in 2000AD at the moment and quite possibly, the best example of sci-fi storytelling out there too. As insightful as it is beautiful, Brink never fails to impress and is a stellar example of script and artwork coming together to produce a five-star literary experience.
Score – ★★★★★
Previous volumes are also available: