Wasteland: The Apocalyptic Edition, which collects the first year of issues from Oni Press' futuristic comic, is a great big chunk of what comics - and sci-fi in general - does best: Creating all-new worlds that engross, fascinate and compel.
Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten's series takes place in a distant future America, a hundred years after an environmental apocalypse known as The Big Wet. In theory, it centers around two characters - Abi and Michael - who possess some kind of unusual (and, as yet, unexplained) abilities, but what makes the book so compelling is the ease of which it moves beyond that and becomes an epic about society, class, freedom and faith without ever seeming forced or pretentious.
Johnston's ability to, essentially, stealth-worldbuild is impressive, making the growth of the story past the central mystery of Abi and Michael seem both natural and effortless, drawing the reader in without tipping his hand about what he's doing, or even where he's going next (Within the 300+ pages of the Apocalyptic Edition collection, there're a couple of reveals that surprise but make sense and stand up to re-readings). Making the characters recognizable without making them too familiar - and, thankfully, staying clear of cliched fake-swearing or language which shows that the writer is trying a little too hard to tell us that this world is different, really - he manages to pull our sympathies towards his characters while still giving them the space to surprise and make the wrong decisions without losing our interest or empathy.
He's helped in his task by Christopher Mitten's artwork, which is just stunning; sharing stylistic elements with artists like Fabio Moon, Paul Pope and Dave McKean but with a strong sense of originality and individuality, Mitten's artwork manages to clearly tell the story while continually being attractive to the eye throughout (In particular, his use of tone and texture at times is wonderfully atmospheric and effective). He's not a flashy artist, but it's to his (and the book's) benefit; his work is so much more impressive in its subtlety.
The massive - in pagecount and dimensions, as it's oversized - Apocalyptic collection is easily the best entry into the series; offering enough of a chunk of story so that there's some payoff for your investment (The Abi/Jakob relationship reveal, in particular, is satisfying, and leaves you wanting more exploration), while leaving so much open for you to want to come back for more. It's a dense read, in the best ways, and feels substantial at its conclusion. More than once while reading it, I thought to myself that it felt like it earned the "graphic novel" tag instead of just being an overlong comic - I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult, but this is something you can dive into, lose yourself in, and come out the other side better for the experience. Consider it highly recommended, and for publishers Oni Press, please rush out an Apocalyptic Edition Volume Two collecting the next 13 issues as soon as possible, please.