INFINITE VACATION #1 – written by Nick Spencer, art by Christian Ward – Image/Shadowline
My pull list at my friendly local comics shop (Cheyenne, WY’s Heroes Only) runneth over. I have a bad habit of spending quality time every month with the Diamond PREVIEW guide and pretty much losing control — which means that every Wednesday there are at least a few goodies waiting for me.
There’ s pretty much always a stand-out in the field. It might be an exceptional issue of an on-going series I’ve long loved (such as the final issue of David Hine and Shaky Kane’s mind-bendingly meta Bulletproof Coffin), it might be a gonzo one-shot crossover (such as the lovely and hilarious Hellboy/Beasts of Burden issue), and, such as is the case this month, it might be the first issue of a mini-series I’ve been eager to get my hands on and that exceeds all my expectations.
Infinite Vacation concerns the adventures of one Mark, a man of unspecified but evidently considerable means who is in the top 20% of U.S. customers for a firm that specializes in allowing people to buy and sell alternate versions of their very lives. Taking the idea that every time a person makes — or fails to make — a decision creates a whole new universe and running a marathon sprint with it, the milieu of this comic has people bidding furiously on differences big and small via a smartphone app. Somewhere in the universe, you are President of the United States; somewhere you’re a murder victim; somewhere you own a surf shop; somewhere you are a psychotherapist; somewhere you’re just dithering over whether or not to say hello to a pretty girl in a coffee shop.
The dizzying possibilities of such an existence are a challenge to convey, but artist Christian Ward has proven more than up to the task in this first issue. The tropical-hued watercolor palette seductively sells the vacation idea on almost every page even before some innovative and dazzlingly complex spash pages and layouts hit the reader with the kaleidoscopic range of possibilities inherent in exploring your alternate selves’ lives.
While Image’s marketing team recommends the comic to fans of Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for good reason, what it kept making me think of most often is an undeservedly overlooked science fiction novel that has long gone on my personal short list for Best Time Travel Novel EVAR, David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, in which the time traveler eventually finds himself and all of the alternate versions of himself he meets on his travels to be all the company he needs, the ultimate solipsism. In Infinite Vacation, Mark becomes his therapist-self’s patient, but it’s ultimately his surf-shop self who has the wisdom to really address his problem: Mark has become addicted to infinity and needs to find focus again. “Find that one thing that makes your life worth more than you can put up for sale on your phone,” surfer-Mark counsels.
But will Mark take that advice as he jumps back into the stream of selves? As he comes to discover that a disproportionate number of “hims” seem to be dying young, the question takes on more than ordinary weight even before he spies a pretty woman in a coffee shop in his real life who is one of the “Reality Amish” — people who disdain the Infinite Vacation.
Other reviewers have complained about an interlude within Issue #1 that takes several pages to explain in detail the business of which Mark is such a loyal customer. We are meant to survey these pages as a prospective customer might; they contain ad copy and photographs of a PR man walking us through how it works and why it is a wonder. Stylistically they do jar a bit, yanking us away from the gorgeous blandishments of Ward’s other pages, but as a quick tour of Mark’s world they are very effective, and far better than the likeliest alternative, a tedious expository flashback scene; I give these pages a pass for serving their purpose well, though I hope they won’t make reappearances in future issues.
For all of these reasons and more, my pick for December/January is really no contest. For delighting my eyes and my jones for an intricate and intriguing story well-begun, Infinite Vacation #1 is the Cream of My Comics Crop this month.