“Delete #1” takes the reader into a near-future where technology exists that can affect or even erase human memories, a world where the authorities use brain-scanning devices as part of their investigations, and where sinister corporations prey upon ordinary people. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have constructed an intriguing concept at the heart of what could have easily been just another dystopian conspiracy cyber-thriller. In their hands what we get instead is an engrossing and intriguing opener to a series that will be killer if it can keep its game this high.
In a crowded, snowy, unnamed urban metropolis, a young family of three tries to hide among the masses. Uri and Yalena are on the run, accompanied by their mute daughter Kalina. But their relative peace is shattered when they realize their shadowy pursuers have caught up with them. A bloody massacre ensues, with Kalina eventually left in the care of the only friend she has left; Spencer, the hulking, mentally challenged handyman of their building.
Palmiotti and Gray haven’t exactly broken the mould here in terms of plot, but their skill at structure and shape shines through in how well they do their world-building. Rather than obsessing over details and using clunky exposition to explain their society and its futuristic technology, they trust their audience to figure out what they need to, bringing up the brain-scanning tech as an organic component of the story. It gives the reader the respect of expecting us to have patience to learn a little at a time, to fill in what we need to, and not have reams of technobabble thrown at us.
They also give us intriguing characters we can get behind. Spencer is clearly going to be the protagonist, and while he initially appears to be somewhat of a cliched “Lenny” pulled right from “Of Mice and Men”, the writers drop significant hints in the issue that Spencer is more than he initially appears. The detectives are also interesting, particularly Drexler the lead investigator, who appears to be a serious and dogged man of integrity.
The shape of the issue is what works best for me, and what demonstrates the value of having two experienced pros like Palmiotti and Gray at the helm. They know exactly how to make the page count work for them, with scenes that last just long enough before moving on, keeping the momentum going. Whereas a lot of modern comics seem to alternate between issues that focus on action and ones that feel too talky, the balance of the narrative is really solid here, with a pace that feel organic and smooth.
John Timms‘s art is really sharp here, as well. He wisely chooses to make the world extremely recognizable as our own, with the notable exception of the brain-tech. This of course makes those gadgets pop out in a way that they wouldn’t in art that was more “futuristic” in style. If everything looks fantastic, then the fantastic begins to look mundane. It also keeps the feel of the book more on the side of a thriller than science-fiction, which gives the story a noir flourish and gritty vibe. Timms handles the action well, and knows how to show the results of the massacre in enough detail as to have impact, but not be gory.
In the final analysis, “Delete #1” does what a first issue should do, it leaves you eager to come back for issue #2. It may not be the most innovative or ground-breaking plot, but the familiar conspiracy-thriller narrative actually helps ground the high-tech angle at the heart of the story and give what could seem an outlandish concept a feel of realism. The price point of $4.99 may be a little steep, but I’ll still come back for more.