What comes after the zombie apocalypse? We find out in Less Than Human #Halloween

(image courtesy The Animation Workshop Instagram account)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, zombies are cured and exiled to secluded camps. There has been talk about rehabilitating post-zombies back into society. Steve, the journalist reporting on the case, thinks the zombies still pose a threat to society. He ventures into one of these camps to prove to the world that rehabilitation is out the question. (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

I guess you can’t blame the survivors of the almost-zombie apocalypse for being a litte nervous about allowing the rehabilitated undead back into their midst.

After all, they probably chomped their way through much-loved friends and family, generating untold fear and terror and almost bringing civilisation down in the process.

But as Less Than Human engagingly demonstrates, perhaps all those understandable assumptions are holding these survivors from seeing what life is now like for the zombies now they are, in fact, alive again.

Or maybe there is something to their misgivings.

More than likely though, it’s clear case of things being way more complicated than polarise positions allow for, especially when it comes to upbeat Andy and bitter Don, for whom life after death after life is a mess of confusing, unfixable contradictions.

It’s surprisingly touchingly rich and moving and will make you think anew about all kinds of issues where what we see and what’s actually going on are two completely different things, and some additional perspective, even the undead variety, might be a mighty beneficial thing.

 

Release the demogorgon … again! Thoughts on Stranger Things S2 #Halloween

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

Stranger Things 2 is a slayer of pedestrian sequels.

Ducking and weaving past the sophomore curse like a demogorgon on the hunt – or you’re Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matazrazzo), a “demo-dog” (yeah, no, it didn’t catch on) – the sequel to the Duffer Brothers zeitgeist-busting, watercooler-overwhelming show of 2016 is back, building on what came before with alacrity and engrossing ease.

It’s a rare feat given the propensity of shows that bestride the pop culture consciousness to lose their way in spectacular fashion, and end up a bloated, directionless mess when they serve up a second serving. (True Detective anyone?)

Granted Stranger Things 2, which sees the threat from the Upside Down, tethered to and channeling itself through poor Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), go from a simple though traumatic case of kidnapping with sinister supernatural tones to full-blown, the world-is-ending menace, is a little more stuffed to the gills with plot, character development and ’80s references than its predecessor.

But that’s to be expected – it is a sequel after all and referencing your own mythology is something you fully expect the Duffer Brothers to do; the thing is they do it in such a way that it doesn’t feel awkward or messy or overdone, simply the pleasing continuation of a gripping storyline with characters we know and love and a few extra thrown in for good measure.

The “party” of course are back.

While we don’t see them playing Dungeons and Dragons this time around – there simply isn’t time, what with saving the world and all; the manual however does get a workout especially when it comes to identifying the Big Bad of the piece – it is referenced again and again, as a way of making sense of the inter dimensional threat that once again visits Hawkins, Indiana, this time with steroid-laced bells on.

No, what Mike (Finn Wolfhard), still pining for Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who is supposedly “missing”, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin and Will are doing, to varying degrees, is trying to save Hawkins from tumbling into the Upside Down, or perhaps simply becoming an extension of it.

 

 

That is, of course, as things start to heat up.

In the first few episodes, we are treated to a long, slow, artfully-constructed build-up as the four guys, Will’s mom Joyce (Ryder) and brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Nancy’s boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), and sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), do their best to act as it everything is normal.

It’s anything but, of course; Barb (Shannon Purser) who – SPOILER ALERT! – died in season 1 at the hands of a hungry demogorgon, continues to weigh heavily on Nancy’s mind, Joyce, though happy in her relationship with the dweebily sweet Bob Newby (Sean Astin), can’t ignore that Will is still “off”, his sessions with Hawkins Labs’ new head honcho Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) not really helping to stop his “episodes” – he keeps seeing himself in the Upside Down; flashback or premonition? – and newcomer Maxine aka “Max” (Sadie Sink) upsetting the dynamics of the “party” in a way that Eleven never came close to achieving.

Really, it’s a case of SNAFU (Situation Normal All F**ked Up), as everyone, signed as they are to confidentiality agreements, tries to smile and act as if the terrifying intrusion of the Upside Down made absolutely no lasting impact on their lives.

(One bright shining moment in all this portentous existential angst is the relationship between Sheriff Hopper and Eleven, who receives a considerable fleshing out of her character via backstory and one key episode where she hits the road to find her “sister”, which is heartwarming, real and fractious at times. It is emblematic of one of the great strengths of Stranger Things which is it focus on key relationships between characters such as Hopper and Eleven, the emergent brotherly bond between Dustin and Steve, and of course Nancy and Jonathan.)

As events begin to build though, and the ratcheting up of the tension is deliciously on point every step of the way till the inevitable hell, which involves a great deal of slime, slithering snakey things and blackened, fly-swarmed pumpkins, it becomes apparent that there is a lot below the surface ready to break free, which is duly does as the Upside Down’s revived presence cracks everything open.

What makes Stranger Things 2 works so well is that the Duffer Brothers have taken the time to weave in what made the first season work so well – fully-formed, compelling characters you love spending time with (yes even you Steve, played by Joe Keery, who it turns out is a kickass “babysitter”), a beguiling premise, bang-on perfect music selections (Oingo Boingo? Yes!)  and a distinct sense of time and place (1980s small town midwestern America) – without being endlessly derivative of themselves (even if, you could well argue, Stranger Things is creatively derivative, as Star Wars before it, of a million different pop culture influences).

So we essentially get the best of what came before, with some brilliantly-conceived new characters – Max, Dr Owens, and Bob Newby all work beautifully; Max’s brother, the snarling, angry Billy (Dacre Montgomery) not so much – a host of pop culture touchstones such as Aliens, GhostbustersThe Exorcist and Stephen King, more Eggos product placement (c’mon yum!), and a narrative that neatly builds on the lingering set up of season 1 – Will coughing up a slug? Trust us, it, like so much else, is important – as it very much becomes it’s own hugely-engrossing storytelling animal.

 

 

The key through all nine riveting episodes – it bests season 1 by one episode, the extra hour of storytelling used brilliantly well as we learn more about Eleven – is how much we care about these people.

Being more Spielbergian than the great master himself at times – this is in no way a  criticism; they have sat at the feet of the king and learnt well – Stranger Things did a brilliant job in season 1 of balancing moments of big epic action with intimate character moments that really mattered.

Even better, these moments didn’t stop the show or slow it down but were woven seamlessly into a narrative which balanced the big and the small with grace and pleasing elegance.

This very much continues in season 2 with the emotional resonance scale turned up, to devastatingly moving effect, to maximum; you can’t help but weep a little as Eleven finds herself lost once again, as Joyce justifiably agonises over what’s happening to her traumatised little boy, how Hopper seems a thousand kinds of world weary and disillusioned yet still committed to the fight, Mike’s twin worrying over Eleven’s fate and the changing dynamics of their friendship circle, and on and on.

Every character gets their moment, has their voice amplified, grows and develops all while the overwhelming threat to Hawkins, Indiana grows and grows and grows until we have full-on, full bore action, the kind that has you on the edge of your seat.

Thing is, none of that epic, spectacular storytelling of this would be worth a damn if you didn’t care about the characters; and you care, you care deeply, and it invests Stranger Things 2 with such a richness and fulsomeness that the twin endings – the action one and the character-driven one – are satisfying in every possible way.

Stranger Things 2, which is never less than engrossing, is very much a product of a multitude of ’80s references and pop culture antecedents, but my lord they use them affectingly and well, delivering up TV so captivating and emotionally-involving, and so original in its own way, that you’ll wish you could go back to Hawkins immediately and do it all over again (which, of course, you can; thank you Netflix).

 

#Halloween cartoon: Guillermo del Toro’s Treehouse of Horror Couch Gag #Simpsons

The Simpsons at their ghoulish best ... worst? (image via YouTube (c) FOX)
The Simpsons at their ghoulish best … worst? (image via YouTube (c) FOX)

 

Now this is how you mark Halloween everyone!

Particularly if you’re Matt Groening and you want your then-latest Treehouse of Horror intro – this was for the 2013 special – to include everything from zombies to mummies to mutants and apocalyptic visions of a hellish future.

Hire master storyteller Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak), ask him to throw in pretty much everything horror-oriented he can conceive of – and remember this man not only has a prodigious imagination and vast storehouse of horror knowledge, he knows how to use it elegantly and well – and then some such as:

  • Zombies, most likely from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (brains!)
  • Giant robots and monsters duking it out (Pacific Rim)
  • The Birds with Mrs Crabapple playing the part of a soon-to-be ornithophobic Tippi Hedren
  • Mr Burns and Smithers as the Pale Man and fairy from Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Maggie being scanned as 666 at the supermarket checkout
  • Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster and Mummy, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr’s The Wolfman, Gillman from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Claude Rains’ Invisible Man.
  • Even the robot from Lost in Space!

There’s a ton of brilliantly-clever references crammed into this short opening sequence, making it a joy to watch again and again – see Simpsons Wiki for the first list of references – while you thank your lucky stars you don’t live in an horrific Springfield.

Or do you? Shhhh – DON’T … LOOK … BACK …

 

George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo is a genuinely startling novel (curated article)

George Saunders (image courtesy Man Booker Prize)

 

Adam Kelly, University of York

I am someone who reads, teaches, and writes about contemporary American fiction for a living. Knowing this, you might expect that fresh, experimental novels would constantly be arriving on my desk, that I would be inundated with literary innovation.

But it is in fact rare to come across a book that does something genuinely new and startling with the form of the novel, a form with a long and distinguished history. George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which [recently] won the 2017 Booker Prize, is that rare kind of book. I had read all of Saunders’s short fiction collections, as well as a great many interviews and essays, before opening his first novel. Yet despite what should have been ideal preparation, I was unprepared for what I found there.

As any student of American history knows, the ostensible subject of Lincoln in the Bardo is the most revered of all US presidents. Abraham Lincoln was an autodidact who rose to fame from an inauspicious backwoods upbringing. He became president at what remains the most fraught moment in American history. He led the north to victory in the Civil War, and abolished slavery by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. He thought like a legal scholar but projected the empathy of a statesman. His speeches are among the greatest ever made by a politician. And he was assassinated as the war drew to a close, ensuring his legacy could not be tarnished by any future descent from the height of his powers.

Lincoln is also one of the most written about men in history, a subject of endless fascination. He has been explored by countless scholars, imagined by myriad writers, embodied by numerous actors on stage and screen. How then to write about Lincoln in a new way, to imagine not only the man himself but all he has come to represent in and for American culture?

 

Abraham Lincoln, 1863.
(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Tackling Lincoln

Lincoln in the Bardo answers this question in two surprising ways. First, Saunders does not focus his primary attention on Lincoln, but on the spirits who inhabit the cemetery in which his 11-year-old son Willie has been buried. Reading the novel’s opening line – “On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen” – we initially assume that we are hearing the voice of Abraham Lincoln, perhaps coming to us from the mysterious space of the bardo, the realm in Buddhist mythology that lies between death and rebirth.

It soon becomes clear, however, that the facts do not fit with this reading, and nor does the tone. On the third page, we discover that the speaker is one “hans vollman”, in conversation with someone called “roger bevins iii”. These are not famous men, nor are they taken up with famous acts. They are discussing the fatal accident experienced by vollmann when he was hit by a beam while in the first flush of sexual arousal with his virgin bride. Echoing the setting and tone of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Irish-language classic Cré na Cille, Lincoln in the Bardo begins like a bawdy black comedy.

In building a fictional world from this unexpected opening, the second key decision Saunders makes is to refuse to do what writers of historical fiction have always done, which is to conceal the sources of their research and imagine their subject fresh onto the page. Instead, Saunders quotes a wide range of scholarly passages verbatim, attributing the quotations to their author and text.

Bloomsbury

These passages are drawn from what historians call primary sources (letters and memoirs from Lincoln’s contemporaries) and secondary sources (scholarly accounts of Lincoln in the 150+ years since his death). Most of these sources are real, some are invented, and it’s not always clear which is which. The result is a novel that powerfully transmits the cumulative and collective effort to write history, to do justice to the past and what it means.

 

(cover image courtesy Bloomsbury)

 

A democracy of contradictions

The mix of these two registers – the comic and the scholarly – shouldn’t work, but it does. Once the reader has settled into the rhythm of alternating chapters dealing with the chaotic world of the spirits and the more sober (but sometimes equally peculiar) scholarship on Lincoln, Saunders’s project gains clarity, purpose and power. Populated with a multitude of voices, the novel addresses the great faultlines of American democracy – race, gender, wealth, sexuality – while keeping its eye firmly on the common ground its characters share in their inevitable confrontation with life and death.

In a creative writing masterclass with Saunders that I attended earlier this year at the University of Liverpool, the author outlined his vision of literary stories as “active systems of contradiction”. In mixing together what we usually think of as opposites – tragedy and comedy, high rhetoric and bawdy farce, private grief and political action, the individual and the collective – stories can challenge our sense that some things must be kept apart. We come to see that these apparent opposites are in fact different faces of a fundamental unity. This is the unity that underpins our connection to one another in a shared world.

In writing Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders couldn’t have known how directly his themes would speak to an America and a world in which contradictions are becoming increasingly stark and oppositions are being set in stone. The Booker Prize jury has done us a favour by drawing attention to a book that tries to forge a unity among opposites in the most surprising ways.

The ConversationDespite its origins in grief and mourning, Saunders’s message is a refreshingly hopeful one. We can only hope the message is heard by those whose ears it needs to reach.

Adam Kelly, Lecturer in American Literature, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meow … BOO! Simon’s Cat finds some creepy crawlies #Halloween

(image via Laughing Squid (c) Simon Tofield)

 

SNAPSHOT
A curious cat uncovers a coven of creepy crawlies. Simon’s Cat FINALLY gets into the attic and gives Simon a spooky surprise! (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

Gotta say I’m with Simon on the sheer evilness of spiders.

Forget the zombies, ghosts and demented sprites – it’s spiders that set my heart racing, and not in the good way, and I can relate entirely to Simon’s conviction that arachnids are the true monsters of Halloween.

Simon’s Cat, god bless him, has no idea that spiders are that scary nor that they exponentially more scary in the dark.

Boo!

And let’s not get started about things creeping out from under sofas …

 

Monster in the Mirror: Grover delightfully goes all wubba wubba wubba woo woo woo

(image via YouTube (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

Grover, my favourite monster in the world – yeah sorry Godzilla and the Demagorgon, you’re not even in the running – is a lot braver than most people think.

Sure he may be spooked by monsters at the end of books, and get a little nervous when he is waiting on people in a restaurant, but he can also stare down all kinds of things that might scare other people.

Take seeing a “Monster in the Mirror” for instance.

In this fun song, written by Christopher Cerf and Norman Stiles which debuted in 1989, Grover sees his reflection in the mirror. Rather than get scared by the monster staring back at him, he sings “Wubba wubba wubba wubba, woo woo woo” and with some help from celebrity pals like Candice Bergen, Ray Charles and Julia Roberts, gets so comfortable with his mirrored self that he evens embraces him by the end of the song.

Awww that’s my Grover!

 

 

Now to mark this year’s Halloween festivities, an animated lyric video of the song has been released by Sesame Street on their YouTube channel.

Featuring many of Grover’s besties like Herry Monster, Cookie Monster, Telly Monster and Count von Count, it breathes whole new monstrously fun life into the song, with Groovy getting his mummy on, bandages flailing all around him as he comes to grips with who the monster in the mirror is – a lovely guy who seems to agree with everything Grover says!

Not so scary after all!

Movie review: Thor Ragnarok

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Thor: Ragnarok is, quite simply put, a hoot.

Yes, you heard me correctly, A … HOOT.

If this quirky little word promising a thousand idiosyncratic absurdities doesn’t sound like the kind of word you would normally associate with an earnest, sprawling Marvel film where good stands gravely against evil and triumphs, then all the better.

For in the hands of justly-venerated New Zealand director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Search for the Wilderpeople), whose eye for the hilariously visual and the ridiculously said is unparalleled, that is precisely what the third instalment in the Thor series is, and it is all the better for it.

There is a deadly serious underpinning, of course – Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) fighting off Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) as the End of Days aka Ragnarok threatens to annihilate Asgard and its people is hardly the stuff of a snappily diverting half hour of sitcom guffawing – but Thor: Ragnarok is, for all intents and purposes, a brilliantly funny, goofy as all get out comedy that happily struts its laugh-out-loud freak stuff for all to see.

The riotously mischievous dynamic kicks into high gear pretty much immediately with Thor, all quips and humourous asides, explaining how it is he came to be chained in a wooden cage dangling over a floor of lava and rocks in fire demon Surtur’s sweat-heavy cave of horrors.

Hardly the setting for a soul-restoring laugh right?

And yet as Surtur (Clancy Brown) gloats, his Bond villainry in full, glorious, madly camp portentous flow, Thor, released from the cage and dangling mere metres from a fiery death, constantly interrupts his captor’s tirade as he spins away from facing him, asking him to wait until they’re face-to-face again.

It’s followed by a full-blown action scene where dragons and fire sprites aplenty assail our mighty Hammer-augmented hero, but even then, the witty asides flow like the waterfall from Asgard, especially as Thor, in urgent, timely need of a Bifrost window opening is let down by a distracted Skurge (Karl Urban), more interested in impressing the ladies than rescuing Asgard’s prince.

 

 

It’s set the tone and feel for the entire taut, endeavour with a deliciously-entertaining mix of silly as a pork chop visual gags and dialogue bon mots, spectacular action which takes us to Surtur’s world and Sakaar where the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) rules in camp, dictaorial, bread-and-circuses splendour and some moments of piercingly intense, affecting emotional resonance.

This is comedy then with substance, a laugh-a-second fest that never forgets for one perfectly-realised second, that true humour, the kind that unsettles the soul and gets you really thinking, draws its potency from real life.

And Thor: Ragnarok is as real, for all its fantastical trappings and they are, if you recall, as fantastically opulent and wrapped in myth-sprung-to-life as they come, as it gets, as Hela systemically, enslaves, kills, raise an army of dead Asgardian soldiers as demon zombie warriors and wreaks vengeance upon the generally hapless people of Asgard.

The stakes are raised still higher as Thor finds himself trapped on Sakaar, the new, and decidedly unwilling participant in the Grandmaster’s latest arena spectacular fight to the death where is facing off against the Hulk who has been in his angry form for two years after escaping death and shows no sign of wanting to return to his more diminutive Bruce Banner form.

While this may seem like a needlessly side B narrative diversion from the real game in town, it provides Thor with a chance to expand his galactic horizons once again, reunite with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who’s up to his old mischievous tricks – he is the one, in ways that cannot be explained without a nebula full of spoilers, that sets Hela’s revenge-train of nasties in motion – and assemble a team (the Revengers?) including disillusioned Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and soft-spoken rock-man Korg (Taika Waititi) who gets some of the (many) best lines in the film and gives proceedings a humorously philosophical bent.

Goldblum is in fine form, as is frequent Waititi collaborator Rachel House as the Grandmaster’s deadpan funny bodyguard Topaz giving Thor and the gang plenty of opportunities to bounce off the “bad guys” and strategise their triumphant return to Asgard – which includes some classically funny pieces of visual silliness – where they realise, mid-battle that to save it they must let it fall.

 

 

That is as grave as any film can get, and is what grants Thor: Ragnarok, pleasingly full to the gills with Vaudevillian scenes, slapstick moments and punchy threads of quip-laden dialogue, its muscular narrative soul.

Rounding out this artfully and nitpicking-free array of cinematic storytelling at its finest, is a retro ’70s aesthetic that sees everything from the titles (rendered in panel van art) to the music (the use of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin in the climactic fight scene is inspired brilliance as is the Jean-Michael Jarre-inspired music of Mark Mothersbaugh) to the use of the entry scene from 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (yes, really, and it is, as you guess, a hoot) as inspiration for Thor’s arrival in the Grandmaster’s court, coated in a delightfully camp, four decades-old patina that works perfectly with the film.

Waititi has said that he sees the film as “a cool bold, colorful cosmic adventure” (EW, August 2017) and everything about it confirms that he realised this vision in spades.

As with every adventure, it has a fiercely-determined hero who still finds time to have silly but not un-purposeful conversations with friends and enemies alike, a crew of like-minded souls happy to help him, an urgent goal that must be realised (saving your home world couldn’t be any more urgent), and a baddy who, for once, doesn’t disappoint and provides some actual, hard-fought opposition.

Thor: Ragnarok, quite simply has it all – comic book fabulousness writ large across the screen, epic scenes that are massively spectacular and make you feel as this is a comic come to life (which is as it should be but often isn’t), an endless stream of very silly but enormously clever humour, and the emotional glue, really moving emotional glue at times, to hold it all together in one exquitely well-poised package.

Been wondering of Marvel could just go for it, keep the formula ticking over but let it get its freak show on at the same time? Wonder no more as Thor: Ragnarok delivers in ways intimately small and bombastically, hilariously big, the very essence of what a grippingly good, superbly entertaining superhero movie should be, and then some.

Oh, and did I mention it’s a hoot? It is. A … HOOT.

 

 

Control your fear: The intriguing mind games of Alien Invasion: S.U.M. 1

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
The film centers on S.U.M.1 (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), a committed young soldier who has lived his whole life underground. He enters a dark and desolate forest, his mission: to keep at bay the Nonesuch, a breed of hostile alien creatures. As reports circulate of frequent, devastating attacks, the routine military operation becomes a nightmare. (synopsis (c) Variety)

It’s official – Earth is once again the planet most alien races would like to invade.

And why not? Blue skies. Green fields. Christmas ornaments. Caramel sundaes. What’s not to like?

But as Alien Invasion: S.U.M.1 beautifully illustrates in way both terrible and intriguing, there is such a thing as being too popular with an alien race the Nonesuch taking a great liking to Earth but not so much its resident Homo Sapiens.

 

 

Standing guard over what’s left of the human race falls to an intrepid bunch of soldiers, one of whom, as io9 notes, finds it more than a little taxing discharging his duties solo over his 100-day mission:

“… the soldier has to slowly cling to either his remaining time on duty or what’s left of his sanity, to the point he’s unsure if the aliens are either right on his doorstep or never actually existed at all.”

As premises go this is a corker, fitting neatly into that sub genre of alien invasion films that offer a raw, intimate look at the way what would be a catastrophic event affects one person, and by extension, the entire human race.

Control your fear? Not that easy and it will interesting to see how one soldier deals with his fears in the echo chamber of his own mind.

Alien Invasion S.U.M.1 opens 1 December in USA and Canada and 7 December in Germany; no word on an Australian release date yet.

Comics review: Animosity (issues 1-9) #Halloween

(image courtesy After Shock)
(image courtesy After Shock)

 

Any way you slice it, and to date it has been sliced more times than a munched orange, the apocalypse is going to be a harrowing, end of-the-world existential nightmare.

How can it not be?

You’re losing everything, and quite possibly, everyone that matters to you, with all the familiar touchstones of your life swept so quickly there’s no time to mourn them or even grab mementoes of them; this is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, and there’s nothing you can do about it but try and survive.

But as Animosity by written by Marguerite Bennett with artwork by Rafael de Latorre (Aftershock), the first issue of which released in March this year, brings to a chilling realisation, there’s something even more deeply unnerving when the threat, the driver of the fall of civilisation is not something that feels removed from you like climate change (though, its patently not; we’re talking perception here) or hey, even zombies, but something near and dear to you like animals.

That’s right – with little to no warning, animals gaining full sentience, many of them mid-instinctual action, some in the midst of being slaughtered, others as our entertainment playthings, still many others angry at humanity for taking the whole Biblical domination of all life thing just a little too enthusiastically to heart.

The usual mayhem, death and destruction ensues – birds attacking people on the street, pet tigers mauling their owners, rats attacking maintenance workers; it’s horrible, nasty and shocking, made even more so by the fact that no one sees this coming because the source of the attack are creatures we thought to be our friends, our food sources, our lesser-thans.

Well, they’re not lesser- than now, and suddenly, they want vengeance, iPads and a lifestyle that goes far beyond sitting on a nest or swimming aimlessly around the ocean.

They want what we have and they will do what they need to get it; so there’s lots of blood, naked, bloody violence and the vengeful retribution writ large.

But, and this is the great strength of Animosity, the thing that makes it compelling reading, is that it has real, ahem, humanity – yes one of the less antagonistic animals makes a quip about this at one point to great comical effect – with its focus on one little girl Jesse and her endlessly faithful bloodhound, Sandor (named after a Game of Thrones character by Jesse’s dad; guess which one) and their struggle to get from New York City to San Francisco, to find Jesse’s estranged step-brother Adam, a vet who, and this makes perfect sense given who now rules the earth, is in very high demand.

The bond between these two, which survives a great deal of heartbreak, violence and loss, is rich and true and powerfully effecting, a reminder that even in the very worst of times – the animals taking over does not usher in a golden age of ecological harmony but simply more of the same infighting and selfishness, this time with dolphins vs. seals, dogs vs. koalas – that love can be a tremendous force for good.

It’s what centres Animosity and gives its the heart and soul missing from many apocalyptic tales which give you lots of death and destruction, but not much of a case for wanting to survive it, beyond simply a gut instinct to stay alive.

 

(image via Comixology (c) Aftershock)

 

Animosity is about far more than staying alive – it’s about belonging, inclusiveness (not all the animals are evil and Jesse’s family widens in impressively diverse and hitherto unknown ways), the simple rites and passages of life, and how the choices we make can have substantial ramifications beyond anything we can envisage at the time.

With the journey to find Adam as the central narrative lynchpin, Jesse sets off from New York in the most fantastical fashion, riding on the back of a delightful Humpback Whale named Hwwwarrrooohorrrrroooo (Jesse has a gift for animal names; Sandor, surprisingly, does not) into a world where animals such as pangolins muse around the fire about the meaning of life, whether they have souls and who caused animals sentience known as The Wake.

It is also a world, sadly where self-interested animal/human gangs form, where much of the hope and optimism of the initial revolution slowly devolves into a vicious reproduction of the world it swept away – witness the story of San Francisco, Adam’s home, told in spinoff Animosity: We Rise, where for all the idealistic good intentions of Winter Mute, a wolf/malamute hybrid, things go the way of the French Revolution of 1789 – and where survival of the fittest and the desire for a richer lifestyle at the expense of other beings trumps all.

Animosity then is told with real intelligence, replete with references to Animal Farm, Watership Down and Planet of the Apes to name a few, many of which are woven into single, striking panel, and with a real understanding of the great challenges facing our world, challenges that won’t simply vanish because humanity is forced off centre stage.

For example, animals outnumber us by a considerable margin, yes even the way we have driven them to near-extinction and ravaged their habitat, and when it comes down to feeding and looking themselves, now they’re sentient and not just instinctually driven, the challenge is almost overwhelming.

Think 7 billion humans strain things with their needs and wants and materialistic demands? Try 100 billion animals wanting the same thing and you realise the scope of the problem and the issues facing the new rulers of the planet.

Sure, you can kill most of the humans but what then? How do you govern? Allocate resources? Keep the peace? Ensure a just and equal society is created? Just like now, the new animal rulers either resort to magnanimous inclusion and just, ennobling rule or go down the Lord of the Flies path, every last sentient animal and insect for themselves, consequences be damned.

All these issues and more confront this very serious series – which still manages some moments of pure joy, mostly courtesy of Jesse and Sandor and their new friends, and humour such as when some animals decide aliens are behind The Wake – which for all its intellectual underpinnings and sometimes violent narrative momentum, never forgets that it is essentially a touching story of love between one girl and her dog who will do anything to ensure she gets where she needs to go.

Both Jesse and Sandor are real grounded, beautifully fleshed out characters who compel you to care about them; not because they’re cute heartstring-tugging character tropes but because they’re real and authentic and represent what any of us would survive the end of all things.

Jesse and Sandor are, in the end – there’s thankfully no end in sight for the series with issues still forthcoming and a new spinoff Animosity: Evolution just launched) – the emotional lynchpin of this remarkably well thought-out and immensely well-executed story and it’s their story, their engaging tale of love, devotion and care come what may, that propels this wholly enjoyable, evocative and thought-provoking that is destined to be one of the apocalyptic stories of our time.

 

(cover image via Comics Heating Up (c) Aftershock)

The Constellation Chronicle: Go to the dark, creepy reaches of space this #Halloween

(image courtesy The Constellation Chronicle)

 

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that it’s almost Halloween.

Now you could do what most people do to mark this most spooky of holidays – spray your house with fake cobwebs, stick up a Jack o’ Lantern on your front steps and wait for trick-or-treaters to visit seeking a mega ton of sugar.

Or, and c’mon you know you want to do something entirely different, you could head off to the mysterious world of The Constellation Chronicle where everyone’s favourite spacefaring, inter-dimensional guys and their robot are galactically celebrating Halloween with more than a few earthly touches thrown in …

“Our boys Marcel and Wainwright and their pet robot ZeeBee have gathered at your doorstep for some delicious, delicious candy. Marcel (left) has donned his best Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad costume complete with that signature gas mask.

“Wainwright chose the subtler option. He figured he could pass as a normal man out for the night with his over eager friend. If any one asked, he was David from Marvel’s T.V show, Legion in his asylum outfit.

“Zeebee somehow found a blonde wig and tried it on. On the way out the door, the poor robot fell into a collection of sheets. Impressed by the surprising resemblance to Marilyn Monroe Marcel and Wainwright decided to run with it.”

Once you’re done getting your spookiness on with the gang from The Constellation Chronicle , you should head over to Top Web Comics Halloween Contest, check out all the amazing entries , and naturally, vote for The Constellation Chronicle’s entry.

But hey don’t stop there!

There’s plenty going on the La Sillia universe and you can check out this impressively ambitious, artistically-rich and narratively-engrossing new webcomic series here, and if you like what you see, how about lending the creators Emevsa (the first names of its creators Emi, SJ and Evie) some financial loving via their Patreon page.

Having inter-galactic Halloween everyone!