Set in a dystopian future where natural resources have been exhausted and society itself has descended and dissolved, the second instalment of Tim Sulka and John Franklin’s Prime Cuts documents the regression of Todd Sweeney, a reformed inmate and barber who continues his plunge back into a world dictated by revenge, murder and violence.
In my review of Prime Cuts: Vol. 1 I accused the authors of addressing “notions of morality, consumption and global responsibility” without offering “a protagonist who symbolises a juxtaposition to corruption itself”, however Vol. 2 proves that this initial assessment was premature. Sulka and Franklin refuse to present Sweeney as a contrasting protagonist because he is, in actuality, a product of the immorality and corruption that surrounds and consumes him.
Characters that are driven by their desire to preserve humanity and civilisation usually define and contextualise dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction, including the survivors in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: “On the road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world.”
In Prime Cuts, Sweeney is forced to reflect on where he fits in an imperfect universe: “Aren’t guys like you s’posed to have a moral code or something?” Unlike the protagonists in McCarthy’s work or Rick Grimes in Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead saga, Sweeney is not motivated by a duty to be what McCarthy and Kirkman both coin as “the good guys”. Instead, the colourful degenerates created by Sulka and Franklin consistently prioritise survival and transgression over probity and virtue.
It could be argued that this approach weakens the text and makes its antagonistic cast alien to the reader, but it serves the purpose of emphasising the hopelessness of the brutal, dishevelled society in which they dwell. Vol. 2 successfully reinforces these themes while simultaneously strengthening its parallels with The String of Pearls: A Romance (the penny dreadful in which Sweeney Todd originally appeared), however the authors fail to add depth to the characters or significantly advance the plot line.
It’s still a sardonic and entertaining chapter in an ambitious and bizarre adaptation, however many readers, at least in this infantile stage in the series, may be disappointed that there is not more allegorical meat to sink their teeth into.