Grand Abyss Hotel GN HC
Originally published in 2016, re-released in the US by Archaia in 2019, and now finally read by my lazy butt in 2022. The reason I give that timeline is mainly because of the prescient tone of the book, which is honestly mostly just trend prediction to the most depressing degree, especially when you hit the one throwaway line about a new flu claiming another victim.
GAH isn't so much a story as it's an experimental narrative aiming to reveal snippets of a familiar dystopian hellscape. Borrowing heavily from Frank Miller's talking news head sequences in The Dark Knight Returns and his later (unsuccessful) attempts to tackle social media in DK2, Marcos Prior and David Rubin drown the reader in a constant flow of information that even blots out the main character. The masked man on the cover is there, and he is doing something behind the scenes, but it's so obscured by the media chatter, rampant social media posting, and empty corporate advertising that we don't even get to see a traditional plot unfold.
Depending on how you like your experimental storytelling, this approach has a lot of ups and downs in this project. On one hand, it fully embodies the anxiety of our times as the book itself is one endless doomscroll. We never see our radical protagonist all the way through because there's just so much mental static, and I like that approach as it offers a ton of ambiguity in the world. Likewise, the piecemeal nature of each segment offers a lot of great compartmentalized ideas. I particularly enjoyed that the fire department and the police are at such great odds in this future that once they both arrive on scene for an emergency a fist fight immediately breaks out over who gets to handle the job.
On the flipside, there's just enough ambiguity that some sequences are more confusing or out of place. People are kidnapped and trapped in an apartment building, forced to play out economic welfare experiments. Initially I thought this was a 'V For Vendetta' like mental game set in motion by our main character, but in the end I suppose it was just an odd government torture experiment. Other sequences led to an all-out riot in the streets, and I'm still unsure as to how they really unfolded or if I was supposed to realize who certain characters were. When true chaos unfolds in the real world we tend to not have a clear ideas as to why, especially if the reporting on it is untrustworthy. So while I see what they were going for, I still yearned for some more narrative cohesion to gel it all together.
Rubin's art is a major highlight here as his hyperactive and hyperviolent style helps to punctuate the ever changing mood swings of the different chapters. His style and design work offers just enough over exaggeration to give this world its own flavor that only just narrowly separates it from ours. The slightly cartoonish flair to his character designs also eases the tonal harshness of the subject matter as well, so your visit to this hellhole doesn't completely bum you out.
The story has an oddly positive message towards the end, something that feels a little out of place. This may just feel that way to me because I'm reading this in 2022, and when this was initially released we were facing the 2016 elections as well as Brexit and its 2019 release lead straight into the pandemic. So when you pick up a book that was fairly good at forecasting the social and economic meltdowns of the next 6 years I have to admit I was expecting a gloomier disposition similar to the ending of Alan Moore's 'V For Vendetta' (and definitely not the optimistic Wachowski version). So, again, depending on your mileage with dystopian tales of warnings, you might like this more for its positivity or you might feel a little disappointed like I did.
The book is a nicely formatted landscape hardcover package that clocks in at 112 pages for $24.99. Despite my critiques, I would say it is worth checking out because while I wouldn't say it was 100% successful in its experiments it definitely brought a lot of interesting ideas to the foreground. That combined with Rubin's engaging artwork make it well worth a dip.