November 3, 2013

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Monkeybrain on the Brain: The Army of Dr. Moreau

When Monkeybrain debuted in July 2012, I took a little time to feature a review on each of the debut titles, which I called "Monkeybrain on the Brain." Now it's home to Eisner winners and creators ranging from Kurt Busiek to Jen and I figured that now would be as good a time as any to revisit the line.

Over the course of November, I'll be featuring different Monkeybrain titles, both new and old. You can find them under the Monkeybrain tag, which includes links back to the ones I did initially.

Written by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Carl Sciacchitano and Sara Machajewski

It's 1939 and things are tense as Great Britain holds firm against the growing Nazi threat, a fictionalized island might hold the key to tipping the balance towards Hitler's forces. Two men are tasked with finding out the truth and preventing...the Army of Dr. Moreau.

Even though I sometimes weary a bit of comics creators mining literary references, the title alone on this one made it something I couldn't resist trying. I'm also a huge fan of HG Wells, who I consider to be the first modern science fiction writer (i.e. someone whose prose does not feel horribly dated when you read it). That meant this was an easy pickup for me, and I'm glad I did.

Starting off with an echo of Wells' story, we quickly discover that his fiction wasn't so fictional, which is a great way of presenting the story. Given that the best Wells stories are set up as true story narratives, this works well. The agents are naturally skeptical, but Walker ensures the reader is under no such delusions. We're taken to the island, where the Nazis are their usual cheery selves, trying to make an unholy army by manipulating genes the way that America would later manipulate the power of the atom. The action moves quickly, never staying long any any scene and getting to the action quickly. Issue two is almost certain to find the parties clashing, a nice change from the extended storylines that tend to dominate comics.

The real artistic tests for Sciacchitano and Machajewski are in the future, as they'll be needed to bring a sense of horror and menace to the creatures created by the scientists working from Meraux's playbook. (The "name change" by Wells from Meraux to Moreau in this plot is a nice touch, and perfectly in character.) They do a bit of them in this first issue, and it's solid, if not spectacular. The animals look very humanoid, but they aren't very intimidating and their human antagonist doesn't really show the fear or revulsion you'd expect.

There's a lot of talking in this issue because of Walker's decision to move the plot quickly, and the pair does okay at creating tension, keeping characters at tilted angles and using eyes and limbs to indicate emotion. Overall, the art does its job, but doesn't stand out. Everything is proportional and consistent, but there's only surface level detailing (generic circles for buttons, for example) and the coloring is very heavy on brown shades. I'd like to see it push further for a story like this one, where imagination can roam freely due to the dark science fiction plot.

Even if there's no major shifts in the artistic details, there's enough going on in this first issue from Walker's script that The Army of Dr. Moreau is worth grabbing for anyone who's a fan of Wells or action stories and it will be interesting to see where this new series goes as it moves along to what I hope will be a thrilling--and sometimes chilling--conclusion in the months to come.