I’ve long been of the opinion that single-creator anthologies are something that’s in far too short a supply these days, but I’m pleased as can be to see Ryan Alves has thrown his hat into the ring with Bubblegum Maelstrom #1 from Awe Comics, a solid collection of six short strips, most boasting full painted color, that pleasingly concludes on a “Continued Next Issue” note. Which means, of course, that this is a good enough comic that you’ll be hankering for more.
Still, it’s bad form in the extreme to begin at the end, so let’s back up a bit here : it starts as life itself does, with fucking, and continues apace through a particularly grotesque birth, followed by an equally grotesque bio-dystopia, then on into a Bat-spoof, and from there makes its way through mutant plant growth, just plain mutants doing battle across a canyon, and fire-farting birds in conflict with man and, well, mutants again. There’s beauty in all this ugliness and squalor and devastation and natural austerity, to be sure, but sometimes you really do have to work damn hard to find it.
Still, who isn’t up for a challenge every now and then? And while revisionist takes on The Book Of Genesis and on Bruce Wayne and Alfred and on the post-apocalyptic genre in more or less its entirety may seem to only fit together in the most vague of conceptual terms, in point of fact one story flows into the next here quite nicely, albeit surprisingly. Most are self-contained — barring the Bat-thing, which is an except from Alves’ daring Moustache newspaper broadsheet, previously reviewed on this very site and which I expect to see further serialized in subsequent issues — but the linkages between them range from the oblique to the far less so, the end result being that the entire package has a definite holistic bent to it. I can’t say whether this is by accident, design or, more than likely, a bit of both, but it’s there plain as day and that sense of cohesion is part of what makes this, as the kids say, “next level stuff,” indeed.
The other major contributing factor to that makeshift designation is, of course, the art — Alves has never, in my experience as a reader, been one to fuck around, but here he imbues everything with an expertly-achieved blend of the lush and the ominous, the delicate and the foreboding, the sacred and the profane. Horrific monstrosities juxtaposed perfectly in space against rich landscapes, with no shortcuts taken and no detail spared. He’s playing for keeps in every panel on every page, a palpable effort to make each image genuinely memorable on clear display throughout.
And yet, there is a real sense here that we may just be scratching the surface — which, as far as opening salvos go, is in no way a bad thing. Alves brings a cinematic approach to his pages, his eye — and, consequently, that of the reader — alighting on elements that enhance mood as much as they advance narrative, and while some of the choices he makes in that regard are perhaps bizarre on a liminal level, on a sublininal one they all make a kind of intuitive “sense.” As easy as these strips are to follow along with, then, don’t rush them — you’ll be missing out on a lot of the fun if you do.
Yes, I did say fun — there’s plenty of it to be had amid the parade of degradation and depravity here. Alves is dead serious about his craft, to be certain, but there is a playful tone to much of this comic that makes it perhaps all the more disconcerting for that fact. There are shocks and stomach-churns in more than generous supply, but how seriously you decide to take them all? That’s entirely up to you. For my own part, I was horrified at how much fun I was having, but also had fun with the sheer depths to which I was horrified. If that seems inherently contradictory, all I can say is — read the comic. I think you’ll feel the exact same way.
Bubblegum Maelstrom #1 is available for $12.00 from the Awe Comics Storenvy site at https://www.storenvy.com/products/31352110-bubblegum-maelstrom
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