After the narrative and artistic maelstrom that we got last issue, Remender and Murphy stick to a much more linear story in this one. Although they're both still wonderfully imaginative in the process, the tighter focus gives us a clearer vision of the larger story that they're telling.
First, we get a pretty straight-forward hook: the head of Flak Corp., Mr. Flak, wants Led and Debbie to go to Tokyo. Apparently, Davey Trauma was part of some sort of super-secret Japanese experiment run by someone named Dr. Akata during "the Big Melt." (Remender makes it pretty clear throughout the issue that climate change, and not some sort of nuclear catastrophe, caused the post-apocalyptic setting of the series - hence why Los Angeles is now a series of islands.) Akata was ordered either to find a way to grow new farmlands or to create "weapons to help plunder resources from other nations." Davey was part of the latter initiative, given his ability to interact with machines. Flak got this information after torturing Davey; he also revealed that Tokyo is now a garden that has enough food and clean water to supply Los Angeles for decades. As such, Flak sends in Led and Debbie, promising them this time to end their contracts if they succeed. But, Debbie is willing to go with his plan, since it gets them to Tokyo, where she hopes they'll remain indefinitely.
Along the way, we get Led and Debbie's origin story. Debbie made friends with Led after her father died, leaving her the only other unplugged person in Los Angeles. Led (then Teddy) was a sensitive boy abandoned by his parents and fully embraced her anti-tech ethos. They're all set to live happily ever after, until Teddy tries to chase off a gang that makes its fortune by taping the crimes that they commit. They beat Teddy almost to death -- "all the while reading from a script" -- until Debbie used the moves that her father taught her to save him. Teddy was humiliated when the video of her saving him became the second-most watched clip of the year. (His teacher calls him a pussy as he and the rest of his class watch the video.) To regain his honor, he joined the Constable program and became Led Dent.
In Tokyo, Led is trying to shake off his loss of access to the web, given the emp field that surrounds Tokyo. Meanwhile, Debbie is ecstatic to be there, since she believes that they'll never return to Los Angeles. Led wanders to a pond and pukes up some of the nanites that the Constable program injected into him to turn him into Led. There, he encounters a samurai who immediately flees, and Led gives chase so that the samurai doesn't tell anyone that they're there. However, he falls off a cliff en route (whereas the samurai manages essentially to float to the ground). Debbie continues the chase, as the scenes of a totally overgrown Tokyo flash before us. But, they find themselves face-to-face with a woman that seems in charge of Tokyo, calling them "weeds" in her garden.
Remender makes it clear that he's telling a story focused on the long game here. First, we're going to be watching Teddy go through a fairly extreme version of detox, and it'll be interesting to see the commentary on modern society that Remender delivers in the process. (Can we even live without our phones today?) Second, Debbie and Teddy are supposed to basically conquer Japan: it's not exactly a smash-and-grab mission.
Moreover, even if the story is more linear than it was in the first issue, Remender and Murphy don't skimp on using their imagination to make the horrors of this future clear. The conversation with Mr. Flak happens as he's graphically naked; equally graphically, we watch people frantically drink his bathwater after he exits the bath. Given the connection to climate change that Remender draws in this issue, he's making it very clear the stakes involved, to his mind, in the current discussion. When you consider where California is in the present, it seems hard to argue with him.
But, the four stars that I'm giving this issue isn't just because it gives us a better view into the amazingly clear vision that Remender and Murphy seem to share as they build this world. It's also because they do a great job of getting us to care about the characters. We got to know Debbie a little last issue, but Remender deepens the sense of isolation that she feels as he delves into her back story. But, it's Teddy's fate that pulls the most at my heart strings, as it probably does for every other (formerly or presently) sensitive teenage boy out there. He surrenders himself to become the man that everyone wants him to be, and Remender makes it clear that Tokyo may offer him some form of redemption. However, the question is whether he actually wants it.
**** (four of five stars)