Giga #1 steams with the tension of a world marred by violence and war. The wars have been fought for so long, people can’t remember exactly how they started and can’t imagine what it’d be like to have them stop. I wasn’t sure a mech-style Gundam-esque comic was going to my thing but it is and it might be yours too.
The Giga fought a war against one another centuries ago but one day the fighting stopped. No one knows why, or they can’t remember. Sometimes war is like. Conflict continues because it’s always been there and so it is expected. There’s an inertia to it. Giga #1 is about that inertia. It’s about what happens in its shadow.
Since the war ended humanity has taken up residence inside the dormant Giga. The skyscraper-sized bots are more than just shelter, they are a religious entity. They are feared and respected. The opening pages of Giga allude to their rich history as a religious scholar refers to The Book of Assembly, their Holy Text. This is where we are introduced to Evan Calhoun.
Evan is part of the Order of the Red Relay, a prestigious membership owing to the way the religious scholar references Evan’s belonging. There’s careful layering by writer Alex Paknadel (Friendo) happening here but what makes these pages really sing is the work of Lê and ROSH. The muted colors give the world a sense of past whose contours are difficult to make out. Lê’s panel work allows us to imagine the scale and scope of the Giga through the delicate use of perspective. Nothing is too crowded, it’s metered and deliberate. Before we are ever able to get a good sense of how the war between the Giga ended, all Hell breaks loose.
There’s an explosion. Bidika’s letters scream “Boom!” Evan loses his hearing temporarily. There’s blood, his friend, Aiko, is dead. Ware disoriented in panel and story. The point of this all? Don’t trust anything. These moments want to destabilize and compel us to be on the lookout at all times. This is the work of constant layering of tension and foreboding the team behind Giga does so well. You can’t help but get a sense of all that is happening just beyond the panel’s border. We know it but we can’t see it, and there’s nothing more terrifying than the unknown, than uncertainty.
When we finally come to our senses again, Evan is an adult, a disgraced engineer. Robbed, beaten, and left for dead, a companion named Mayra saves him. Every sense we have of the current moment is one of scavenging and sacrifice. Evan and Mayra each carry a backpack and their attire indicates a need to move and traverse their landscape with relative ease. Though we don’t know Mayra’s backstory, we can detect trauma owing to her fear of the dark. She’s cautious and scared. So is Evan, though he is less willing to show it.
What works so well about Giga is that the true horror of the comic comes not from the depiction of mutilated bodies, though it certainly adds to it. The horror comes from the close-ups on faces marred by the conflict and war. It’s the long trauma of violence, it’s in body expressions and slight turns of an eyebrow. It gives us a sense that these images are ones these characters have seen before but death never gets easier. Trauma is lifelong.
When Evan enters his home a familiar face is there to greet him, Mason. Readers will recognize Mason from the opening pages. Their greeting of one another immediately informs us there’s tension between the two. The casual way Mason says, “Expecting company?” There’s a passive-aggressiveness that says he’s aware something is happening with Evan but he’s not sure what.
In their subsequent exchange, we find out more about this world. It’s a class-based system, which class you are born into likely determines the job path you follow. Mason offers Evan a gesture of goodwill by giving him a bag of food rations but it’s with the expectation of information. Whatever Mason is looking for, Evan’s not willing to give it. Mason departs but not before an added look of skepticism on his part.
Now we see what Evan has been hiding. He’s been caring for a Giga named Laurel. Laurel is a mech who doesn’t understand her own strength and seems to be short-circuiting in a rather violent fashion. Evan seems determined to repair Laurel and they go off in search of another part so he might repair her.
The climax of Giga #1 occurs as Laurel and Evan are about to unwittingly cross a group of people who don’t look altogether friendly. We leave this world with a feeling of deep unease, just as we started.
The stage has been set, the narrative threads are carefully woven by Paknadel, Le, ROSH, and Bidika. There is so much texture to this world, so much to unearth and uncover. I’ve read Giga #1 three times and each time discovered a new element. It’s not only Paknadel’s deftly handling of character, it’s in the manifestation of the world. It’s done by a creative team fully confident in the story they’re telling and we’re just here to reap the rewards.