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)

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