City of Dust: A Philip Khrome Story #3-5 (Radical Comics)

cityofdust-header.jpgSteve Niles’ story of a dystopic future where creativity and imagination are outlawed concludes.





28 pgs., color; $2.99

(W: Steve Niles; A:Chng)

City of Dust is set in a future dystopia replete with highly-developed technology but devoid of creativity or imagination, both of which have been outlawed.  Forbidden acts include practicing religion, possessing  fiction books, and telling stories to children:  these all fall under the category of Mind Crimes and are ruthlessly prosecuted by the police. Ostensibly these prohibitions are for the general good of the citizens (think of all the wars which have been fought over religion) but you don’t have to spend much time in the world of City of Dust to suspect more sinister purposes.

Special Detective Philip Khrome, the central character in this series, fits imperfectly into this Brave New World. You can blame his father for that: when Philip was a child Alexander Khrome broke the law by telling him stories, developing Phillip’s imagination to the point where even though he’s part of the system he doesn’t totally buy into the party line.

Khrome works in homicide and has his hands full with a rash of gruesome murders in which the bodies appear to have been mauled by wild animals. In the course of doing his job, he opens up a real Pandora’s Box by investigating one of these murders the old-fashioned way: taking a blood sample from the corpse and analyzing it under a microscope. This is a radical action because most investigative equipment has been destroyed and that work is now performed by machines which do it faster and better than humans can. That is, when the machines are working properly. It may have occurred to you that there could be another motivation at work: by destroying the ability of the police to do their own investigations, the state pre-empts any challenge to the official version of events. 

What Khrome and his shapely partner Sonja discover is that you can’t always judge by appearances: some of the apparent humans  in their world are really Bio-Sapiens, living beings made of up synthetic cells that belong somewhere on the continuum between robots and people. If you think that sounds like the plot for Vexille I can only say that you’re right, but it’s too good an idea to be used only once. The consequences of this discovery in #3 are worked out in #s 4-5, which concludes this story arc while filling in a good deal of back story and bringing in a parallel set of father and son subplots (one much creepier than the other). I’m loathe to say more, except that the series comes a proper noir-ish conclusion in #5 while leaving the door open for sequels which could go off in any of quite a few different directions.

The art remains a strong point of this series, as in all Radical Comics publications I’ve seen. It’s fully painted on glossy paper, in a sort of stylized realism with lots of shiny machined surfaces (it is the future, after all) and a predominantly green-grey palette.  There are elements of both sci-fi and horror in both the story line and the art, which can be quite gruesome: if it were a film this series would fall somewhere between PG-13 and R.  A preview of vol. 5 is available from at | Sarah Boslaugh

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