Until I was sent the latest issue of this series (#7) I had no idea of this social experiment gracing the pages of Vertigo comics. In a world filled with social media and a resulting social hierarchy, it’s about time that someone looked at the darker side of the phenomenon, at least to the level that the famed Rob Williams (from 2000AD), is daring to explore.
Warning: There may be possible spoilers ahead.
Unfollow tells the tale of a social media guru Larry Ferrell. He is the inventor of the social media platforms ‘Chirper’ and ‘Headspace’ (I see what you did there Rob) and has just received a death sentence, in the form of an incurable cancer. Now most billionaires, upon hearing this sort of news, would want to make a final mark on the world and Ferrell does not disappoint. Whilst some might set up a charity in their name, save some endangered animals, or try to save the planet, Ferrell decides to do what he does best and sets up a social media group ‘The 140’ (in homage to the 140 character limit). The reward for being in this group? An even share of Ferrell’s $17 billion.
The 140 are seemingly random, though they do have a tentative link, this being that they all have a social media presence. They include: a false prophet, who believes he can speak to God, an international reporter, on the verge of committing suicide (and not just the social kind) and a frustrated heiress, who in a bid to show her distain for money has given her existing fortune to charity .
All seems pretty straight-forward until one of the 140 doesn’t make it to the initial meeting, resulting in the remaining 139 becoming the prime suspects. Some may begin to consider the lengths they will go for a larger share of the promised billions, whilst others may fall victim to these predators, or even the price of fame itself.
One who has already grown tired of fame and fortune is the protagonist of this issue Courtney. As mentioned, Courtney was already as rich socialite, an heiress to a fortune courtesy of her, some-what elusive, father. She seems to despise the status of celebrity and is therefore one of the more reluctant members of the now famed 140. This issue sees her trying to fight back against this uninvited fame as well as giving the reader a flavour of her past, a past which has undoubtedly shaped who she is today.
In this issue Courtney manages to live up to the image of a stereotypical rich girl. She snorts the occasional line, she has a ‘life-long bodyguard’, and has a large dose of unresolved daddy issues. What seems to set Courtney apart from this stereotype, however, is her dark past as well as her blatant disregard for fame, her own personal safety and what her ever-growing followers, think of her.
This issue manages to make what would usually be a widely disliked archetype, almost likeable. Sure she is crass and of course she has an unfounded level of self importance, but Rob William’s unashamedly blunt writing style alongside Mike Dowling’s detailed yet soft illustrations, lend Courtney a number of other levels, making the reader think twice about this privileged daddy’s girl.
At this stage in the tale, the players are really only being introduced to the arena and I for one, am really looking forward to seeing the game unfold. From the story, thus far, I can envisage a similar outcome to the events of the ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Battle Royale’. However, unlike the usual premise of ‘them that kills most wins’, Williams has already managed to bring something new to the fore, and this is the almost religious influence of social media in our lives and the lives of these 140. With the whole world looking on, will these characters risk resorting to all-out slaughter, or will the chance of retribution lead them to wage a more subtle war against their counterparts?
To sum up, Unfollow is one of those rare comics that genuinely manages to bring something new. In an age of technology and this ‘big brother’ era, this is a tale that will undoubtedly play on the minds of those who measure their life on likes and follows. In all, in a contradiction to the title, I will continue to follow this series and eagerly await the unfolding of this technological tale.
Unfollow #7 is available to buy from today by clicking here or by visiting your local comic book retailer.