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City of Dust: A Philip Khrome Story #2

From the first real splash Steve Niles made with 30 Days of Night, it was clear the guy knew how to come up with catchy ideas. Vampires attacking a small Alaska town? Brilliant idea, and yet by the time I got around to actually reading it, the hype was so great that the book couldn't help but be underwhelming.

Then the few things I picked up with his byline seemed like recycling old tropes without coming up with much new. Call it backlash - I couldn't get into the guy's work, though lots of people swore by it.

With Radical Press' City of Dust: A Philip Khrome Story, it finally makes sense. The second issue hits the stands today, so I caught up with old files and thought I'd take a look at issue #1. Then I had to read issue #2 - which, again, did I mention, you could pick up today?

Set in an indeterminate point in our future, City of Dust portrays one of those dystopian utopias where everything seems nice and dandy, but something rots underneath it. In this case, the ruling class determined long before that what truly led to man's destructive nature was something more primal than religion - imagination itself.

Anything fictional has been banned. Let's assume that anything thought-provoking goes along with that. As a child, the protagonist Philip Khrome accidentally got his father arrested when he mentioned to a schoolmate that the man had told him a bedtime story. (In issue #1 he makes it sound like it's the Three Little Pigs, but later amends that to the Tortoise and the Hare.)

Becoming a ward of the state, Khrome grows up to be a police officer, at one point cornering a perp accused of chanting curses at children. That would actually be saying a prayer for his kids, but splitting semantic hairs doesn't mean a thing in this society. The sentence is death, given almost instantaneously when Khrome spots a crucifix on the man. Not knowing for sure what it is, he assumes it's a weapon.

For some, of course, it would be. But still, that's about spirituality, not about the physical, knowable world. For Khrome, that's all there is.

Except that underneath the shiny spires, there seems to be something supernatural going on. The first issue actually opens with the murder of a yuppie couple in an alleyway. Something picks them up and flays them. In the second issue, we see creatures that may be the results of some sort of genetic experimentation gone wrong - except that it seems that the city has two warring factions of undesirables. One may have been there for a very, very long time, feeding off of humanity.

It's easier when people not only don't believe in you, but can't conceive of you.

Khrome himself gets drawn into this investigating a murder with no DNA evidence. Though his sensors tell him this is homicide, all evidence points to…well, nothing. Underneath the corpse, however, lies a book, and Khrome's curiosity can't keep him from reading these horrific ABC's (literally).

All this gets delineated by the moody painting of an artist billed as "Zid." The work really pops when dealing with the creatures and the landscape. As often happens with artists of the grotesque, normal, good-looking humans often suffer in their portrayals here, all being grim and somewhat interchangeable.

The book has a good pace and a great premise. Radical must be on the edge of a multimedia sale with this one, because the concept just screams for a movie adaptation. Here we go again with Steve Niles - but this time, you should jump on board before the hype gets out of control. It's absolutely worth it.

Check out their trailer:

Derek McCaw


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