"Unfollow: Volume 1 – 140 Characters" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Vertigo Comics
Originally published as Unfollow #1 - #6
Written by Rob Williams
Illustrated by Mike Dowling and R.M. Guera
Colored by Quinton Winter and Giulia Brusco
2016, 144 Pages
Trade paperback released on May 24th, 2016
Larry Ferrell is filthy rich after creating a new social network called Headspace. He's also dying. Before he shuffles off this mortal coil, he announces that 140 randomly selected Headspace users will inherit his fortune. At the time of his death, it will be split evenly amongst the surviving 140. He's got $18 billion, so split 140 ways, that's a healthy chunk of change...but it would be even bigger if there were less people to split it with. Ferrell has created a modern day Battle Royale that will reveal the true nature of mankind and how far people will go for greed.
Unfollow has an incredible hook. You can immediately see the possibilities from this premise. Who's going to try to kill everyone? Will any of them team up? Each of the 140 have an app on their phone that displays the number of them still alive. This is eerie in so many ways. How does that app know if they're alive or dead? Just how deep does the Headspace social network go? We see the number drop a little as the story unfolds, creepily dropping down to 139 when someone dies.
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Following 140 characters, plus supporting friends and family, Ferrell, and the people that work for him, would be quite cumbersome. Writer Rob Williams focuses the story on a handful of the chosen, including a poor kid from St. Louis named David; a trust fund rebel named Courtney; an insane writer named Akira; and a religious nutjob named Deacon. This provides a number of different perspectives as to what these regular – and not so regular – people might do with their newfound fortune.
Although you will build first impressions of each and hope that one or another will succeed, ultimately they're all flawed. David would perhaps benefit the most from the money, but he's shown to be brash and immature. Courtney has a problem with authority, but wants to give the money away. Deacon has a lot of guns and seems more than a little crazy.
Mike Dowling's artwork makes these people real. The character work is impressive, showing you so much from each person's life just from the expression on their face. You can see how much David cares for his sister and the lengths he'll go to protect her, however he also has this need to be successful or famous. There's an air of normalcy throughout the book, which makes the stranger elements really stand out, like you were not prepared for them at all.
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Ferrell's second-in-command, Rubenstein, is one such example. He's often seen wearing a bizarre golden face mask with a mane of red hair that hangs down his front like a massive beard. The mask is emotionless despite the smile emblazoned on it. You can't even see his eyes through it. This makes him a very imposing figure wherever he appears. There's clearly more going on with him that we just don't know yet.
Unfollow is a gripping tale that grabs you from page one and never lets go. I read this in one sitting, staying up far too late to complete it because I just could not put it down. There are many questions, but none that hinder the story or its flow. Instead, they have the opposite effect, pulling you deeper and deeper in.