How did we get here? It’s a question you probably find yourself asking more and more these days. Everywhere people are hurting. The news is full of stories about unhappy divorces, politicians united in their disunity, and debates where reason is simply shut down. Worst of all, the same neighbour who once welcomed you into the area, now adorn their cars with bumper stickers to remind you of where you fit in the pecking order. You’ve become one of “those” in their eyes, a barrier towards making “them” great again. Whatever that means. Until now, this run on Kino has been focused around building that foreboding sense of disillusionment and unreality. It’s been about capturing that confusion and dread. Now Alex Paknadel (writer), Diego Galindo (artist), Adam Guzowaki (colorist), Frazer Irving (cover artist), and Jim Campbell (letterer) turn their attention to the question of how normality can be torn apart overnight.
For those who came in late, Kino is the story of RAF pilot: Alistair Meath, who after months of being conditioned into the perfect superhero escapes from his VR prison and killing most of his captors in the process. Unable to control his new powers, Meath home to his family to find that someone has replaced him else is living his life. Dazed and unsure of what is real anymore, he spends months living on the streets as the world around him begins to succumb to rising far-right sentiments.
There is something very wrong about the Britain that Alistair Meath: the mighty Kino, has returned to. Something he cannot identify. Even the doppelganger that has seemingly replaced him in the minds and hearts of his family feels it. Nothing is as it should be and with that realisation comes a pain that they are desperate to escape from. When you can’t put a name to the feeling, to the source of the suffering, it becomes all the more enticing a prospect to have others do it for you.
It is in such moments, where one feels utterly helpless, that the best of intentions become corrupted. Otherwise good people start listening to the twisted words of serpents as they discuss what it means to be “proper Englishmen” and what needs to be done to set things right. Minister Edmund Spode, our antagonist, is at the heart of this bid to capitalise on the very human need to externalise pain. As the distillation of the most vile parts of the far-right, Spode weaves a web that directs the frustrations and suffering of real people towards the most vulnerable. Why? Because its easy and by his logic, a nation needs its scapegoats as much as it needs its sin-eater. Don’t worry about the mess that’s left behind. Don’t worry about those that get hurt in the cross-fire. All that can be dealt with later. As a result, compassion, kindness, and empathy, these essential qualities become the cost of making a select few feel better about themselves.
In these issues that the thematic relevance and impact of both Kino’s powers and backstory really begin to crystallise. He is a man gifted with the abilities of kinetic absorption and redistribution. When you hurt him that same energy is redirected back at you. Kino’s very power-set is about externalising his trauma and suffering. In an odd, but resonant way Meath becomes the personification of Spode’s methodology and opens a wider-debate. The fact that these abilities can be used for to help people suggests that the act of externalisation is not something is inherently negative in nature. The challenge when working through one’s issues or frustrations is to do so in a manner that is not destructive to those around you.
Kino also revives its VR sequences for the first time in this run. These moments wherein the art changes from its modern style to better reflect the Silver Age have not been seen since earlier in Casey’s run on the book. It is here that the team as a whole gets to flex its creatives muscles. Galindo, Guzowoski, and Campbell all change their approaches to replicate the look and feel of sixties, Kirby-esque comic book. The linework begins to stick out, colours becomes muted and letters appear as if done by hand. Indeed, were it not for the higher quality of paper-stock we might have been fooled.
The return of this technique is an inspired choice on behalf of the creative team. Having the book take on the veneer of classic comics plays into Spode’s own deluded aim, and those that inspired him, to return to the “good old days”. This desire to return to what they considered a simpler time is represented by the shift in style. In that moment, Meath’s concerns become as simple as the cultural hive-mind’s attitude towards superhero comics. It is demonstrative of those that fool themselves into thinking their problems can be easily solved by the swift defeat of a “villain”. The Britain that Spode wants to make great again is without nuance, without depth. One could even argue that it serves as a subtle jab a certain movement that has long bemoaned that comics aren’t as good as they were back in the day, that they’ve depreciated by becoming political. If ever there was a rebuttal to such claims, it would be Kino.
Readers are likely to contrast Kino with the Captain Britain and Miracleman seria
As we’ve mentioned before, there is a lot going on in Kino and that’s what makes it such a satisfying read. It recognises that the suffering felt of those that fall victim to the siren’s spell of the far-right can be very real, the problem is narratives which attempt to place the blame at the feet of others. In many ways, Kino is a book about living with trauma and the weight that each of us carries. If you take nothing else away from the book, know that sometimes its okay to ask for help in easing the burden. Just make sure you ask the right person.
Kino is available in all good comic shops and is published by Lion Forge Comics.
A review copy was kindly provided by the creative team.