Cyberpunk horror thriller w0rldtr33 has finished up its first run with a superb #5 that both raised the series' stakes and changed the nature of the story being told. The issue, by series creators James Tynion IV, Fernando Blanco, and Jordie Bellaire, also hinted at several slightly unexpected - but entirely fitting - influences. Spoilers ahead.
A short recap, in case you've not been keeping up. w0rldtr33 #1 opens with a brutal mass-murder broadcast live over the internet. The atrocity is committed by a teenager named Gibson Lane. He's arrested, but older brother Ellison arrives at the police station just in time to see Gibson assassinated by a glassy-eyed, entirely naked woman. This is just the first of a series of killings that start to take place around the country, with the woman - Sammi, as we come to know her, though that's not really her name anymore - a regular, deadly presence.
Elsewhere, a shady tech guru named Gabriel Winter is reuniting a group of hackers and coders with knowledge of the Undernet - a malevolent "sub-basement" of the internet that intends to bring about the end of the world. This group (who used the web forum from which the comic derives its hard-to-type name) fought and contained the Undernet before, but its back and more powerful than ever.
Now, in #5, we see the beginning of the end.
In a flashforward to 2049 we find the world in ruins. Civilisation has fallen. The Undernet has won, and Ellison seems to be one of only a few survivors. The images of a derelict city inevitably recall the machine-ruled possible futures of The Terminator and its sequels, all crumbling cityscapes, burnt out cars and prowling killers - albeit this time naked giants, rather than silver skeletal cyborgs.
Slightly surprisingly these scenes also recall Joss Whedon's divisive Dollhouse. That show was about a future where "dolls" (humans who can be imprinted with different abilities and personas) are hired out as assassins, operatives, lovers, or whatever else a client might need them to be. In the 'Epitaph One' and 'Epitaph Two' episodes the show flashed forward to a future where rampant Doll tech had brought about the end of the world.
Like both of those properties, w0rldtr33 foresees a world where technology brings salvation as well as destruction. Back in 2024, with violent attacks spreading out around the world, Gabriel takes drastic action and "kills the internet", shutting it down entirely (this is perhaps the book's biggest leap, though the script just about gets away with it by making it clear that Gabe has been planning this for decades). This decision will only delay the Undernet, but it buys Ellison and the others some time to start the fight back, using the only site currently still operational: w0rldtr33.
Another flash forward, and this time we get a sense of how the rest of this series might play out. "This is the story of how the world almost ended a long time ago," says Ellison. "And then, it's the story of how it did... And maybe it's the story of how we get our future back."
In these closing pages, Tynion IV, Blanco and Bellaire expertly set the stage for the rest of this saga. What started out as an exploration of the fears that hover around the edges of our use of the internet ("What if I click a dodgy link and see something terrible? What if someone I love becomes radicalized?") and then started to feel like a sort of cyberpunk take on Stephen King's IT, has now evolved into something altogether more unexpected and epic. That's an impressive evolution in just five issues and one that leaves us desperate to know what's going to happen next.
All five issues of w0rldtr33 are available now from Image Comics, with reprints of the first four issues being rushed back to shelves. There's no word as yet on when the series will return for Volume 2, but given that more than 150k issues have been sold to date, it's certainly on the way.
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