Written by Gary Whitta
Art by Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
When you think about properties crying out for a gritty reboot, Oliver Twist is not the first that comes to mind. The Charles Dickens classic has seen some varied adaptations, from the classic musical to animated series, anthropomorphic animals, and a gay-themed film set in the contemporary underground scene. Writer Gary Whitta, known most recently as one of the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story co-writers, twists the Dickens out of the tale and flings it to a future dystopian landscape. So far it kind of works.
Whitta is no stranger to post-apocalyptic scenarios, having penned The Book of Eli for the Hughes Brothers and co-written After Earth with M. Night Shyamalan. Opening with John of Gaunt’s death-bed speech from Richard II (one in which he prophesied the downfall of an idealized England), Whitta crafts something that sits between the future shocks of Danny Boyle and the harsh realities of P. D. James' The Children of Men. Whitta casts the titular orphan as the last of the “purebred infants” born into a post-conflict world filled with manufactured humans designed to weather toxic conditions.
Rather than relying on the familiar story beats of Dickens’ original story, Whitta instead wraps Oliver in a bit of mystery. During his birth something occurs that shocks the cloned soldiers, and it’s only overtly referred to later in the issue. Other big questions, like why society has lost some of the basic tenets of knowledge, form part of the background texture that slowly eke their way out in the relationship between Oliver and his adopted father figure.
From the opening panels, in which a lone figure in a fallout suit makes their way through an abandoned London, superstar artist Darick Robertson brings delicate decay to recognizable landscapes. The first act of the comic is a heavily shadowed series of close-ups, and despite the fact that all but one of the characters is meant to look identical, Robertson alters each of them just enough to make them unique individuals for the reader’s benefit. From there the book jumps forward three years as Robertson follows the lithe movements of the lead ragamuffin across rooftops and down alleyways. That said, the toned Oliver look a lot older than three years old during his solo scenes, but perhaps this is something else that will be explained as time goes by.
Color artist Diego Rodriguez deserves at least half of the credit, serving up some rich lighting sources for Robertson’s wastelands. As he progresses through the various arcs, Rodriguez shifts the tone tone gradually, either bathing what’s left of the city in a rich golden glow or desaturating it for a cool collection of blue tones. There’s three short panels that recap the origin of the world are framed as old newsreel footage to great effect.
At its core, this is Oliver with a twist but Whitta sets us up with an entire world that is waiting to be explored. Rather than simply update the story to a shattered Earth, Whitta has used the character as a way to open the door to something darker and more mysterious. As Dickens, quoted in the final panel, once wrote: “Surprises, like misfortunes, rarely come along.” Dare we say: we want some more?