In a dystopian near future, Olivia Twist is an orphan who escapes from the workhouse she grew up in, and tries to survive on the streets of London.
Writer: Darin Strauss, Adam Dalva
Artist: Emma Vieceli
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: September 19, 2018
Olivia Twist, orphaned at birth, grows up in a workhouse in a near-future London. This is her story, as she looks back on it from a future we don’t yet know. This is a reimagined version of the classic Charles Dickens tale.
THE WORLD BEYOND THE WORKHOUSE
Olivia Twist #1 starts out with the backstory of our title character, or rather, that of her mother. Her mother was a brilliant scientist, and an immigrant (possibly Middle Eastern), in England. After a war, immigrants were rounded up and detained in camps. Olivia’s father was also a scientist, who found and fell in love with Olivia’s mother. Olivia was born, which was her mother’s ticket out of the camp, but on the night of their departure, both parents were gunned down.
Then we’re immersed in the present day. I would place the story in the near-future, but the creative team has done their work to bring in parallels to Dickens’ work. (I must confess, I love Dickens’ writing, so this thrills me.) The Provis Corporation is a big deal, and their main labor force is child orphans. (Laws have been passed against machines working on other machines, so the next (cheap) form of labor are orphans.) The head of this particular workhouse is Mr. Bumble, and on this day, a new youngster joins, name of Pip (a name drop from Great Expectations). The older boys, hazing him, get him to take a bowl up to ask for food. This is where Olivia steps in.
There is a lot packed in here. Olivia is narrating this from her own future, where she has become a leader of men. But we see her on the brink of turning eighteen. And there’s a lot of social commentary packed in here too, again reminiscent of Dickens. The orphans have food and shelter. They don’t have beds, or privacy, and there are distinct hints of violence from the guards. We see a young woman who is mistaken for Olivia and killed. We also see Olivia’s interactions with Richard, one of the guards, who is at least superficially friendly to her.
Olivia turns eighteen, the day she will be set free, and set up with an apartment and a job. Her “exciting new” job? Entry level laborer at Provis. (So, right where she is now. Very Dickensian.) Mr. Bumble gathers everyone around to say good-bye, a distraction occurs, and Olivia runs, with Pip in tow. They make it up to the roof, where Olivia has her first look at the outside world. Richard is the first one to get to her, and he disables the security fence so she can climb out. She attempts to take Pip with her, and she escapes just as more guards show up and the fence is powered back on. But she is separated from Pip.
Life on the streets is not easy in a world where everyone has a place, and you don’t. Olivia meets a free-spirited young woman who calls herself the Artful Dodger. She takes Olivia in hand and teaches her some basic rules for survival. (We also learn that Christian Krespo is the boss of Provis, which essentially runs the world.) They need to dodge the authorities, who are after Olivia, as well as a street gang called The Trads. We also get a brief introduction to the gang Olivia will join, the Esthers, whose names come right out of Dickens. The Artful Dodger takes her to their headquarters, where she meets the boss lady, Fagin.
The aesthetic in Olivia Twist #1 is fascinating. The very opening scene is distinctly modern and uncomfortably familiar-looking with angry mobs looking on as immigrants are moved into the “camps.” As the story progresses, we see touches that bring to mind some Victorian style, although not in a steampunk way. People wear long capes. The workhouse has fat chimneys belching smoke. Mr. Bumble wears a long tailcoat and a bow tie. Little Pip wears shorts and a vest and tie over a white-collared shirt. The workhouse kids are all clothes alike in blue overalls with red kerchiefs around their necks. But we’re still in a future age – movies, computers, passcodes and other technology exists.
In the part of the city where the Americans hang out, we can see it’s an entirely different world, that where even the poor are privileged. In the crowds, there are different styles of dress. Among the shops are places that offer “While-U-Wait Augmentation.” There is just so much to look at and absorb here. This issue is as much about introducing the setting as it is getting the story rolling, and it does a brilliant job. This is a world of have and have-nots, and the contrast is stark.
BOTTOM LINE: A FASCINATING BEGINNING
You do not need to be a Dickens aficionado to enjoy Olivia Twist #1, although being one may help you spot some nods to him here and there. This is not a retelling, but rather borrows some features from Oliver Twist and plays with them in new ways that are more relevant to us in our world. More plot points are introduced than I can reasonably cover here, but they give the story rich potential.