Established fantasy franchises put a lot of energy into “building out” their worlds. The really memorable ones know how to let their worlds sink in.
In the fourth season of the freewheelin’ Dean Haspiel’s Webtoon comic The Red Hook, we don’t have to see the whole panorama of the fledgling hipster utopia it’s set in; we feel it in every close corner where the story plays out.
By now we’re at home in New Brooklyn, the former borough whose innate individuality caused it to supernaturally separate from its attached geography and start a second history as an island nation. At this point Haspiel can focus in on the culture, with its cosmic context a grand backdrop to which his characters can commute.
We see in more detail than ever the way of life in this pilot society where people trade creative capital for food and other essentials, and a kind of celestial ordinance from a local demigod has rendered all firearms inoperative. Befitting a daily world in which art is currency, the story’s canvas can sketch life at an intimate proximity and unfold forever; in the course of the 26-episode Blackout, the stars are literally aligned by a supernatural being after slipping off-course with climatic consequences, the living heart of the mystic island’s catacomb circulatory system is unblocked, two superheroines marry, and the titular prizefighter-turned-costumed-protector wages his biggest struggle to reconcile with his estranged mom.
The comicbook universes that Haspiel and I grew up in always had their “cosmic” heroes and their “street-level” ones, but in Blackout the planets’ orbits, the flow of underground life-force, the cycles of love and the generational seasons all spin in counterpoint; no one’s better than anyone else, and nothing isn’t grand.
Not that anything isn’t flawed; the broken suture of the island’s former bridges still arc halfway out over the water, and the Red Hook’s family’s heart has been broken in one piece for every parent and sibling. The agrarian ideal of one of New Brooklyn’s resident divinities leads to the island-wide depowering of technology alluded to in the title, so more than ever, the supreme resource all the characters have is each other. This zooms in the focus, and the blockbuster setpieces here are cultural divides crossed, old enemies accepted, kind words bestowed to strangers and wisdom come by at high emotional risk, as much as the averted cataclysms and hair’s-breadth survivals that run between and beyond them.
Haspiel understands that the momentous is made up of moments. With Blackout he’s built a monument to what we can never lose site of.