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Cyberpunk Comic Book Meets Synthwave in Codeburst

by Alex Woods

Codeburst: A New Kind of Cyberpunk Media Experience

Codeburst is an interesting outlier in that it’s both a comic book and a music soundtrack combined. With clear indications of what tracks to play when, it’s an unusual yet fun and creative new way to tell a story.

Cover of the Cyberpunk Comic book Codeburst
Cover of the Cyberpunk Comic book Codeburst

Codeburst Starts with a Reluctant Assassin on a Mysterious Mission

As the producers describe it, Codeburst is “. . . part short story, part comic book, and part concept album. Codeburst is a dystopian science fiction fable about Aubrey–a programming genius in search of her lost creation–and Jamie–a man struggling to regain control of his life from the artificial intelligence that has taken him over.”

According to the authors, this story is as much about Aubrey as it is about Jamie, but we only catch a short glimpse of Aubrey–without even knowing her name– at the very end of the first volume. This volume is really about Jamie and his quest to protect a mysterious asset.

Of course, a proper cyberpunk comic book wouldn’t be legit without an ensemble of interesting characters.

Codeburst’s Cast of Characters

Jamie is an assassin who must complete missions forced upon him by an artificial intelligence that can take over his brain. Plagued by guilt and remorse for the killings he never wanted to carry out, he mysteriously receives an optional mission for the first time. The new goal is to protect the target instead of killing it.

Merril is the local bartender who is not just a barkeep, but also a close friend and confidant to Jamie, something I found rather surprising.

Charlie, a robot who often frequents the bar, decides to help Jamie on his mission.  Designed for battle but awkward and clunky, Charlie acts as a comedic relief of sorts for the story. He is one of my favorite characters.

In volume one there is no mention of Aubrey, only a woman referred to as “Her.”  I’m guessing is Aubrey.

Using the general third person pronoun feels a bit impersonal and made me lose a little interest in her role.

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Advantages and Limitations of a Parallel Soundtrack Experience

Having a soundtrack prescribed for the text has the interesting effect of providing the right kind of tone and atmosphere for the story. Also, it results in doing something probably unforeseen by the producers, which is for me to to hurry along and finish reading the text before the song that accompanies it finishes as well. Each chapter has a recommended song to go with it, but I noticed that the music length doesn’t necessarily reflect reading length. While the introduction suggests you can put a song on repeat so you don’t have to worry about its ending, I listened to the soundtrack on YouTube, which doesn’t have that feature.

It’s a bit confusing when there’s a suggested soundtrack and then an additional song on top, such as on page five when the main character enters the Lucky Star. Here we have the soundtrack The Lucky Star to accompany the chapter, but we also have a little box recommending the song Medusa along with some lyrics. I listened to Medusa first and then the soundtrack, but I was a little confused as to why it was there in the first place. Was that song playing on the sound system in The Lucky Star? Was there a singer performing it live? Was it just another song the producers wanted to add to that section specifically? If so, why? It detracted from the moment a little, but otherwise I really like the idea of having music go along with the text. Again, it’s a completely novel thing that I haven’t really seen before.

Editor's note: Stay tuned for "let's ask the creators!"

Dialogue and Descriptive Storytelling

While the dialogue in Codeburst feels a bit awkward and forced at the beginning,  it may be acclimation sickness, as things get better as the story progresses. I enjoyed the treatment of Charlie’s robotic speaking style, as well as the simplistic speaking style of the “havenauts” they meet later on.

Creators Benjamin Emory Larson, Reed Reimer, and Mat Kaminski shine best when they are describing the environment the characters are in as well as Jamie’s thoughts.

They do a great job painting a picture of the bar, or the memories and weird quirks the characters have as they interact with each other. I also liked the idea of the walled city setting (probably inspired by Kowloon Walled City) and the havenauts, which seems to be a combination of “have not” and “astronaut or explorer.”

Minimal Artwork for a Cyberpunk Comic Book

Beyond the glossy cover art and marketing materials, the artwork is relatively limited in Codeburst, with just a few pictures to help the story along. This makes for less than a “comic book” experience, but the illustrations do help to frame the project, and the narrative and soundtrack provide the momentum, leaving the pictures to take a back seat.

In this fashion, Codeburst introduces a novel synthesis of media, but despite some great world-building descriptions and cool concepts like AI wirelessly “pushing” commands that limits someone’s free will, it still suffers from some weaknesses in the story department.  Nonetheless, the efforts of the artists should be applauded as an excellent example of “cool” incarnate. Codeburst is a perfect for a neon afternoon of reading, and it’s worth your time to pick up a copy today.

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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