Cryptocracy #1: a strong opening to Darkhorse’s new franchise
The first of issue Cryptocracy plunges the reader head first into a bizarre world that seems like ours. In reality, it is ruled from the shadows by a group of shadow organizations. Their assets include massive underground complexes, a small army of short grey aliens that can wipe memories, bracelets that can form barriers, guns and swords out of plasma, and sentient bears in business suits that swear like sailors. They are the Nine Families, and the fate of humanity lies in their hands.
The Nine Families at one point flat out say that they aren’t the Illuminati, but they do fulfill a very similar role. They claim that they are guiding humanity down a path that will protect it from itself, as well as external threats. Some of the actions they take to do so are admirable, such protecting a governor from assassination. Others are less so, regularly wiping memories and sabotaging research programs.
It’s left rather questionable just how benevolent the Nine Families are. One of the main plot points of the first issue is the Jupiter family making a naked power grab against the Mars family, and the head of the Mars family is said to be responsible for both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Because of a grudge. In these scenarios, the Nine Families feel like feuding noble families. More concerned with holding power than anything else.
What’s more, the families regularly act based on ancient prophecies, prophecies that they treat with religious undertones. It makes one wonder if the Nine Families truly understand what they’re doing, or are simply following dogma. At the beginning of the issue, a dark matter research program is sabotaged by the Mars family, the justification being that it would have led to humanity’s destruction. Not only is it kept vague how this would have happened, said sabotage accidentally caused an explosion that consumed consumed everything within two miles.
The story shows us many perspectives, but mainly follows Grahame, a high ranking member of the Mars family. Grahame is depicted as someone who is willing to get his hands dirty, but prefers not to when he can. He personally helped kill three men to stop an assassination, yet followed through on a deal to provide medical attention to a man’s child. Even when said man had tried to back out on his end of the deal. In the end, we’re left with a character that shows us how far the Nine Families will go, but we can also sympathize with.
The first issue of Cryptocracy gets a lot done in just twenty-two pages. We’re introduced to the Nine Families, the structure, the fact that aliens exist and work for them, a lot of jargon unique to the world of Cryptocracy, and a decent sized cast of characters. Not all of it is fully explored in the time that the story provides, and we’re left with only the basis,
However, all of this ends up working in the story’s favor. While the majority of this issue is dedicated to setting up the world of Cryptocracy, it gives the reader enough to understand the basic concept, yet leaves enough out to bring them back for more. You want to know if the Nine Families cause more good or harm, you want to know more about these characters, and you want to know where the cliffhanger ending takes the story.
The art is simply a treat. Nearly every character, even unimportant background characters, have their own unique look and design, making it easy to identify them at a glance. It also does an absolutely suburb job of displaying the technology of the Nine families, making it clear just how advanced it is. It does the most important thing art can do, suck you into the world.
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