Writer: Shawn Kittelsen
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Colorists: Michael Garland, Mike Spicer
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Jon Moisan
A pandemic sweeps the world. America divides over racial tensions. News outlets create separate realities of alternative facts. Militarized police grab protesters off the streets.
I assure you, this was science fiction a few months ago. Just ask Heart Attack Volume 1: Against the Wall by Shawn Kittelsen and Eric Zawadzki.
This trade collects the first six issues of the series which began in November 2019, when likely even the creators couldn’t imagine how pertinent the story would be today.
Not every aspect of Heart Attack’s universe reflects our current situation. The story picks up in the wake of a great pandemic, when all diseases have been cured by an experimental gene therapy that leaves some people—known as variants—with superpowers. But not all diseases can be cured by gene therapy. Anti-variant prejudice runs amok, exacerbated by police brutality, dirty politics, and fake news.
And in this mess—a love story.
A Romeo and Juliet tale lies in the middle of this social commentary, giving emotional weight to what could easily become dry politics. And, refreshingly, it’s a take that remembers the tragic heart of the Bard’s famous romance: that love, divorced from control, leads to destruction.
Charlie and Jill, the lovers whose hearts are eponymously under attack, must struggle to find the balance between romantic attachment and higher purpose. Think Attack of the Clones, but if Attack of the Clones actually worked and had fewer giant flea-cows.
As a social commentary, the book is strangely prescient. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t written last week. The story deals head-on with the militarization of law-enforcement, the damaging history of race-based redlining, the separate universes created by politically-backed media outlets, and the blurry line between protests and riots. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests sweeping our nation, the book takes on a desperate urgency it certainly didn’t have upon its November launch.
Kittelsen tackles these issues with welcome complexity. He paints the moral ambiguity and greed woven into every party line.
In the tradition of Watchmen, each chapter ends with media commentary on the issue’s events. But there’s a twist: we’re given articles from competing outlets and opposite biases. It’s an illuminating device when we’ve just seen the whole truth for ourselves on the previous pages—a privilege we rarely have when interacting with news in real life.
Zawadzki’s art keeps up velocity when the script gets hefty. He strikes a balance between cartoon and realism that serves the dual nature of the story. The colors by Michael Garland and Mike Spicer really round out the tone, bringing a poppy, romantic energy into the mix.
If there’s an overall criticism of the book, it’s that the social commentary might be too on-the-nose at times. There’s no veil over the analogies being drawn. Compare this work to X-Men, as the work compares itself. How many white kids in the 1960’s picked up X-Men and learned about equality and justice without even realizing it, without their guards ever coming up?
But in Heart Attack, it’s hard to miss the analogies. Readers will certainly come shields-up with their own biases. Perhaps, in today’s world, the story could be told no other way.
Overall, it’s worth the read. But be warned: this isn’t the sort of superhero story or romantic tale you can escape into. It’s the sort of story that makes you look harder at the world you inhabit. And maybe that’s the sort of story we need right now.