Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Colours: Doug Garbark
Letterer: Jim Campbell
As Last Sons of America #3 opens, Julian Carver sits in an interrogation room, awaiting the arrival of Don Carlo’s brutal henchmen and the complicity of the local police, while his brother Jackie takes Sara to the only place they can go, a gigantic child market called The Merc. With danger closing in from all sides and time running out, Jackie must decide what kind of legacy he and Julian will leave behind in the desolate slums of Central America, where the commodification of children is rotting the souls of adults.
After a few moments of clumsiness in the opening two issues, Last Sons of America #3 really delivers on the series’ promise. Johnson and Smith continue to probe at the boundaries of their dystopian world (an offhand reference is made to cloning at one point), but without unduly drawing our attention away from the main story. The earlier character development of Julian and Jackie, which occasionally felt a little forced, now begins to pay dividends, partly because we see so clearly the different moral struggles now faced by the brothers, but also because, even more crucially, we really care about what happens to them at this point.
The Merc functions both as a gruesomely captivating spectacle and as a demonstration of Johnson’s storytelling skill. This series, to its credit, has been all about the minutiae of near-apocalyptic catastrophe, and in the Merc’s heaving moral vacuum the realisation begins to dawn upon us that foreign policy enacted in response to a world-changing plague might be just as interesting as the plague itself. The sequence also affords Smith an opportunity to showcase his art skills, rendering a seething mass of corrupted humanity which is both stunning and shocking, and his use of dark panels and fragmented imagery towards the end of Last Sons of America #3 also ratchets up the dramatic tension nicely.
While the plot here feels a little rushed at times (and it’s hard to see how Johnson and Smith are going to resolve everything in their one final issue), Last Sons of America #3 is a real step up from the last two issues, exploring themes of fraternal love and moral corruption without forgetting to tell a good story at the same time.