In the background Santigold’s “Big Mouth” plays, but this is the wrong tune for this particular post-apocalyptic mood. Drums that pon de mind and seductive robotic cooing function better as the soundtrack for whatever DMT-influenced prophecies would spring out of a Gaspar Noé/Ridley Scott combo joint than the far flung post-post-apocalypse landscapes mssrs. Kurtis J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo bring to Debris. For this trip I need something bleak and tribal flanked by broke down electronics, glitchy half-functioning things that look and sound nasty and are as likely to electrocute as entertain. For this trip I go minimal wave. For this trip I go Soft Moon, falling down “Circles,“ overly reverberated sort-of vocals and wobbly handclaps audibly clawing at each panel, egging on Avios and giving Jormungand a respectable number to do his death dance to.
“Circles” isn’t just a clever writer trick of forced similarity, it’s a fitting sonic simile, a way of transferring Wiebe’s bleakly minimal dialogue and Rossmo’s chaotic world building to a separate but equal medium. It’s a song that starts with an advancing beat, war drums pounding out a hunt but not making it entirely clear who’s playing the hunter and who’s playing the hunted. That’s the situation Debris introduces itself with: two lone figures looking out as the war drums pound and prey behave erratically. Maya and Calista, disciple and protector, fulfilling roles that have gone in circles for who knows how long. In full on mecha-Moebius mode Rossmo sketches these characters out around the titular debris, last vestigial traces of some prior civilization stabbing out from all around, drenched in the rusty pastels of Sergio Leone by way of Jean-Pierre Jeunet rather than the drab khakis and greys of Mad Max and his fellow road warriors.
This world is old, past its prime, but not dead yet. Except the life contained within it functions almost in defiance of that term; Maya and Calista’s prey isn’t some domesticated cud chewer but instead a flock of sharp, avian motoscooters called Avios, autoorganisms that have more in common with Metropolis than any hybrid nightmare you glimpsed in Food, Inc. And what they’re scared of isn’t two decently armed humans but a massively fanged and armored robobeastie who shares a name with and some striking similarities to a certain Norse serpent. For those keeping track, this is the reason those bird call guitars disappear in “Circles” a little over a minute in, this is what those terrifying hand claps are trumpeting.
After that initial burst of terror, expertly framed by Rossmo in a series of strikingly dynamic action shots that Wiebe wisely leaves mostly wordless, we get a period of unnatural calm, interrupted only by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sequence of three panels prominently featuring a piece of Jormungand debris that has gone sentient, burrowing away from the scene of the kill. It’s an obvious Chekhov’s gun moment that will pay off later, but it’s obvious on purpose, signaling the cyclical inevitability Debris appears to be built around. The cycle of the hero, forced into action by tragedy, sparking the epic quest which will eventually only inevitably result in its own tragedy. The cycle of life, as the big hulking beast dies and provides life for the smaller organisms that live in its shadows. The cycle of storytelling, where symbols glimpsed early on reappear later with larger, deeper meaning. Even the mobility of the debris is cyclical, burrowing through the ground, in circles.
And it directly leads to the introduction of the cyclical world Maya and Calista live in, one where society is structured around a turning wheel that can never stop turning. Calista is the protector for the moment, guarding over the people who keep that wheel turning day after day, but even she recognizes that her cycle has come full turn and Maya is meant to step in, perpetuating the cycle that has gone on for who knows how long. When Jormungand makes his grand return, he too plays into that spinning wheel, doing his part to push Maya on her journey, bringing her face to face with the nature of her role, drawing her out physically and spiritually and giving her motivation she otherwise may never have found. Rossmo’s final image in the issue literally depicts Maya facing down her fate as she peers upward at all the symbols of her predecessors, row after row of long dead Protectors who walked down the same pathway of debris she now faces, pursuing that same never achieved goal all heroes seek: redemption, proof positive that all that faith has been for something real rather than imagined.
At nearly two and a half minutes in, “Circles” runs into a similar moment of catharsis, its chants and primal beat building into an immense wall of sound, synth and guitar and voice all letting out a guttural scream that slowly dissipates to reveal that new old path, a trail leading to some place it has already been, will go again. There’s a comfort in knowing it loops back, connects directly to its beginning, but there’s also a fatalist kick to that notion, a dread realization that it will only end in a fade out eventually, that the song only has so many seconds before it comes to a close. Can Debris end any other way? Are Wiebe and Rossmo looking to disrupt storytelling techniques that have held for millennia, exploiting our comfort in tradition and turning it on its head? Or are they delighting in the classics, putting that new spin on the same story your mother told you and hers told her? All I know is I’m here for the long haul, to fulfill my own fated quest, to stick around and find out, one way or another.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and has contributed to No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.