I’ve been a big fan of Brian Wood ever since I started reading DMZ, so I was immediately interested in Supermarket when I saw his name on the cover. Wood has the ability to make characters feel real and human despite the often extreme or bizarre “comic book” circumstances. Wood’s characters make mistakes and are not always entirely likable, but when all is said and done I think this makes the stories more meaningful. Not everyone worth knowing about is as infallible as most comic book heroes tend to be.
Supermarket is about a sixteen year old girl, Pella Suzuki, who is slightly more than stylishly disillusioned with consumerism. The reader is introduced to Pella as she mouths off to her parents about cash crops and grossly underpaid farmers. This doesn’t, however, keep her from enjoying her cup of coffee. Her objections to companies that promote “weapon systems, anti-democratic coups in oil-producing countries, and ad campaigns designed to hook babies on sugar and caffeine” are acute enough only to motivate her to have an electric conversion kit installed in her Mini Cooper.
Supermarket, as a series, begins as an intriguing look into the life of a modern (actually, slightly futuristic) wealthy teenager. It looks at how an individual, and especially one experiencing the turbulence of adolescence, handles and rationalizes a life of luxury, or at least the extreme comfort with which many people live today. Wood illustrates very well the frustration and at times contradiction that exist within a fairly spoiled teenage girl, as well as in just about everyone else.
Pella objects to the ill-gotten resources and unhealthy extravagance of a consumer driven society, but at the same time depends on them for her subsistence. The lavish overspending of the upper class disgusts her, but she herself works at a convenience store that caters to those willing to overpay. She is appalled by peoples’ carelessness and callousness, though she admits being thankful for her Xanax, and goes on a shopping spree (“Retail therapy”) to cope with her parents’ death, and she stays in the most expensive hotel she can find when her parents’ safe house turns out not to be safe.
Pella is not immediately, if at all, an amiable character, though her faults are what make her believable. Hardly anyone is 100% conservationist or 100% gluttonous. Supermarket, at the onset, presents an enjoyable slice of life for the reader. As it proceeds past the first issue, however, it moves further from the source of its charm in favor of action and conspiracy, and with this a rather flimsy plot.
Brian Wood creates characters that are lifelike, but the situations that they are thrown into leave far too much to guesswork. With a four issue series Wood can be forgiven for not having the time to indulge in lengthy back story, but the holes and gaps in Supermarket are more than a little disappointing.
Pella is the daughter of a Japanese father and Swedish mother, which we learn were once deeply entrenched in the Yakuza and the Swedish Adult Industry Group, respectively. Under unknown circumstances, the to-be parents met and fell in love, had a baby, and joined the witness protection program. With the hoards of money that they acquired mysteriously, the Suzuki family moved into the most expensive and luxurious district of Japan. The real meat of Supermarket‘s plot begins when the Yakuza by some means discover Mr. and Mrs. Suzuki and murder them. Again, the dubious back story can on some level be forgiven for lack of space, but a cold blooded murder in a record store and a chase rife with gunfire in broad daylight through a crowded downtown, followed by a massive shootout in a mysteriously deserted metro station, all without repercussions of any kind, seems much too much in the way of improbable action.
By the fourth and final issue, the reader is left with only one properly developed character, Pella, and a whole mess of rushed storytelling. The other characters in Supermarket are fairly superficial and seem to choose somewhat arbitrarily their loyalties and actions. The ending provides very little closure and the strong anti-consumerism sentiment of the beginning feels like a distant, unrelated musing.
What really holds Supermarket together after its characters are abandoned for action is the artwork. Kristian breathes life into the personas that Wood creates, causing them to come alive even without a great deal of written personality. Kristian’s style is distinct and he makes each page a pleasure to view. IDW does him a great service in that they don’t interrupt the art’s flow with ads on every other page.
In the end, Supermarket could have been much greater than it was, but it was by no means unpleasant. It is definitely worth the price for an entertaining—though not entirely inspired—story and brilliant art.