As a mass of contradictions, Max Huffman’s kickstarted, self-published comic Plaguers Int’l is — and here’s me “spoiling” the review early — wildly, perhaps even deliriously, successful. As a self-contained piece of “world-building,” though, it may be even more so.
Described by the cartoonist himself as a “North American manic feel-bad sideways world adventure comic,” that actually makes sense once you read the thing , but fair warning : the real world may not anymore by the time you’re done.
Not that it ever really did, of course, which is why the mish-mash of everything plus the kitchen sink that is this book is such a welcome reprieve from basically any kind of pre-conceived nothing you had about — I dunno, anything at all, really. Bronze Age scripting meets post-modern artistic sensibilities in a super-hero team book that’s less “piss-take” than it is loving homage but still not quite either one? Hey, I’m game for that, but also aware that probably makes this thing sound a lot like, say, All-Time Comics, which this most assuredly is not.
No offense intended toward ATC, which I quite enjoy, but any inherently “retro” sensibilities Huffman toys with are merely one more piece of “background noise” in a comic redolent with plenty of it, and are in no way the “backbone” of this work. Which leads the astute reader, I would think, to ask “okay, so what is?,” and puzzling that out is one of the book’s great charms. On the one hand it’s too traditional to be experimental, on the other it’s too experimental to be traditional. That means it gives itself no choice but to occupy a self-created space all its own, and that means Huffman is a cartoonist who’s playing for keeps. Duuuuuude — respect. Seriously.
According to our author, the Plaguers are an “extranational paramilitary death squad,” but they read more like “the good guys” to me. Again with the contradictions. But with names like Swirving Wildley and Salmon Dan, how bad can they possibly be? In the meantime, how “good” can somebody named Movement Salon, leader of a “wasteland guerrilla junk cult” be? It’s hard to say, isn’t it? Welcome to the “world-building” mentioned at the outset.
Exotic and entirely non-sensical weapons! Warring factions with little to no clear agenda on either side! Relationship angst in the absence of any relationship! Detailed internal monologue narration by people we’ve never met before and know nothing about! Breakneck action with no discernible point! My God, where has this book been all my life????
I spoke of chaos, and it’s here in plentiful supply, but Huffman’s line is so refined, so razor-sharp, that this comic’s sheer, across-the-board cleanliness could fool you into thinking the story it’s telling is a nice, tidy, orderly affair. It looks like it should be. But our guy Max has other — and far better — ideas. He knows what he’s doing so intimately, so innately, that whether or not you or I do well and truly becomes immaterial. Trust completely or get the fuck out of the way.
And I do trust Max Huffman completely, regardless of whether or not that’s good for my health or sanity. I trust him to make comics like no one else has or ever again will. I trust him to be several steps ahead of me at all times but to make the act of playing “catch-up” a mind-bending and sensibility-shredding romp. I trust him to imbue every image, whether it calls to mind art deco or post-psychedelia, with meaning and intent. I trust him to take me places I’ve never been by means of transport I’ve never conceived of. And I trust him to get me there and back in one piece.
Which, of course, is foolhardy in the extreme on my part. He’s only responsible for taking us there, while the “getting back” part? That’s up to us — and I’m not sure that I have come back from Plaguers Int’l.
But that’s okay — I’m really not sure that I want to. This world is too damn cool to leave.
Plaguers Int’l sells for $8 and is available from Domino Books (of course) at http://dominobooks.org/plaguers.html
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