By Marguerite Bennett, Rafael de Latorre, Rob Schwager, and Marshall Dillon
If I could walk with the animals, talk with the animals, grunt, squek, squ….ah dear god! Oh no. Oh no no no. Did those Pandas just…? Yep. And that hamster? Oh yeah. Well then. Twisting, toying, and subverting the evergreen comic “funny animals” genre into a distinctly ‘mature readers’ affair, Animosity relishes in toeing the line between ferocious and facetious. It’s a curious approach, one that flitters between being riveting and not quite providing enough of an anchor to hold on to. Bennet, de Latorre, Schwager, and Dillon ensure that Animosity #1 is bloviating with potential and heighten the effect by having it flash by far too quickly. Amidst an utter fauna free-for-all, thankfully, there sits an emotional rock centered on a young girl and her dog. Dogs are objectively great, even more so when they can wield a sword. Yeah, you read that right; look, things get pretty bananas pretty quick here.
Bennett has an ambitious story to tell and one that’s rooted in what it means to form a true loving bond and watch while everything around that begins to crumble. Cradled with dark humor and sociological commentary, Bennet’s script is rife with potential even as it manically juggles establishing the world and tone with inserting legitimate laughs and heartfelt connections. As disturbingly, and surprisingly, funny as most of this first issue is, it’s the relationship between Jessica and Sandor (girl and dog, respectively) that resonates most. It may be too heavy handed with regards to telling versus showing, but at this early stage its intentional and only serves to bolster the chaotic setting collapsing around them. There’s sacrifices coming, that’s for sure, and the effects of the madness around them will present them with challenges. There’s something inherently brilliant about upending a traditional “owner-pet” relationship and pushing it to the challenges of human relationship complexity. Bennett crafts Pixar-level schmaltz with demonically disastrous events and its captivatingly familiar even as pandas participate in mass suicide by shotgun.
In lieu of a distinct anchor, Bennett would appear to be asking the reader to grab onto the multitude of thematic elements to build a foundation with. Is it effective? Partly. As charming as Jessica and Sandor’s budding father/daughter relationship is, it’s competing against a menagerie of other ideas and none of them are given enough time to take root. That’s easily the largest drawback to the issue, in that there are only really sixteen pages of story with three of them dedicating themselves to double-page spreads of unfolding twelve-panel grids and one page of solid text. Those double-page spreads unravel beautifully in terms of comic beats, however, and easily provide the heartiest laughs in the whole issue, but the entirety of the story whips by in a blur. It almost feels more like a teaser, a promotional advance look at a comic, rather than the actual first issue of the comic itself.
Hopefully, what’s missing here will be found en masse as the story unfolds; namely, the examination of modern human society via the anthropomorphic actions of the “awoken” animal kingdom. Even here in the first issue, we see a myriad of perspectives, emotions, and agendas from various species ranging from spiteful to bloodthirsty to absolutely mind-blowingly terrified. They are, at this point, us and as such, privy to the same destructive and/or demiurgic tendencies. Whether this stays a surface level reflection or mined for subtextual gold will be an intriguing element as the narrative progresses. One would almost hope it takes a Y: The Last Man approach to the mystery behind what caused the world-changing event and spend its time on investigating what that change means.
Rafael de Latorre should have a stranglehold on your attention right from the cover (with glorious cover colors by Marcelo Maiolo). There’s a sharp and scratchy nature to his line, one that exercises more restraint than might be expected with the style, that’s smartly grounded by bold inks. Latorre really works magic when it comes to balancing the harsh ferocity of many of the figures with the soft, vulnerability of others. With heavy, jagged blacks, he renders attacking dogs and crows, and adds heft to a tiger’s stripes, but manages to bring an open and minimal precision to Jessica and Sandor. There’s nary a line that exists superfluously, only tilting towards scratchier texturing when the tonal shift calls for it in moments of chaotic threat. There’s a tinge of Mitch Gerards and Scott Godlweski to be found in Latorre’s style, but he surprises in how deftly he takes his foot on and off the sharper-edged gas pedal.
The page layouts never stray from a traditional approach, but effectively direct the eye in conjunction with the unfolding madness. Overlaying panels atop an establishing splash to convey a freefall sequence is particularly effective as are those that use the same method to use aspect-to-aspect cuts. Latorre ensures you have a full grasp on just how ungraspable the events are and manages to turn the spotlight onto our intended protagonists with poise. The aforementioned double-page spreads are effective in relaying the humor and horror that is Animosity, but collectively it’s a questionable use of valuable page real estate even if it contains some pivotal beats. The use of a mirrored call back to an earlier splash page between Jessica and Sandor is an absolute gut-punch that’s beautifully rendered and resonant.
A dearth of background details in several panels means Rob Schwager is called upon to add a bevy of texture and complementary tones. With a richly hued and saturated palette, Schwager adds needed depth to the world while keeping it a vibrant and engaging experience. Utilizing an array of applications from sponged detail to brick layouts, it’s the colors that add the real tactility to the art from grimy and blotched mud-laden farmlands or sullied skyscrapers to soft, layered fur and densely spattered blood. While never overwrought, the implementing of gradient-only backgrounds never distracts, but adds little. It’s a tough job, to have literally nothing but open white space to color as a background, so finding the right emotional pitch to match the rest of the book is hardly easy and Schwager’s ability to create so much depth in the wide range of various species of characters more than make up for it. There’s also an anomalous flat coloring moment of Jessica and Sandor falling that’s a welcome sight in its roughhewn, ‘color inside the lines be damned’ use of stamped sangria purple atop a golden straw backdrop.
Animosity #1 claws at you and flutters by you all at once. There’s a ton of promise here and the creative team provides a cacophonous peek at a world torn asunder onto itself while a newly complex bond of protection and love is sure to be tested right at the center of it all. Pun or not, Animosity #1 is truly wild in how swiftly it unfolds and lunges head first into chaos, both to its credit as well as its detriment. Dipping its toes in the realms of horror, fantasy, and black comedy, Animosity has yet to carve out exactly what it’s going to be or even what it wants to be, but the seeds have been sown for an introverted look at what it means to be human.