By Jon Rivera, Gerard Way, Michael Avon Oeming, and Nick Filardi
In tandem with their recent Rebirth relaunch, DC has launched a brand new imprint spearheaded by writer Gerard Way called Young Animal. The idea behind Young Animal has been to tell stories that, whilst set within the DC continuity, are free to be more experimental in both form and content. Doom Patrol is the lead title, and recently we have had the first issue of Shade, the Changing Girl as well. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 is the line’s third title to launch, and the first to drastically change the mold. Doom Patrol and Shade both make considerable effort to stand out from the typical DC crop. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, meanwhile, makes considerable effort to stand out not just from the typical DC crop, but from the typical Young Animal crop as well.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 is a book of contradictions. Plot-wise its themes are ennui, depression, emasculation, and internal crisis, yet visually it’s a bombastic feast of invention. It is narratively lo-fi but aesthetically ambitious. We get the quiet, simmering atmosphere of a Jeff Lemire book with the sharp style of a Bruce Timm project. These contradictions complement each other rather than conflict. The pain of Cave’s mid-life ennui is accentuated by Filardi’s bold color palette of the world around him. This contrast reminds us that when we are depressed, the world around us does not necessarily reflect it. When we are in pain, the skies might not rain. Though Carson feels internally grey, the world he inhabits is one of painted by some of the brashest colors you’re likely to see in any comic. Cave Carson may be Young Animal’s new symbol of malaise, but the world around him is too busy looking like a theme park to let him be apathetic.
This book is weird. It is odd. It is vibrant and playful. Underneath it all this is something richer: a terror of mortality. The story’s key device of ‘the eye’ routinely takes us into Carson’s mind in a way few other titles can. This introspection offers the reader almost near-literal naval gazing. As Carson spends much of the issue locked into the memories the eye throws up, we (the reader) find ourselves presented with a perfect allegory for society’s increasing dependance on nostalgia. In Carson we have a man so locked into remembering the past he is refusing to live in the present. Luckily the story doesn’t let him linger in the former, and the madcap action that explodes in the later half, drags him into the latter.
Oeming is in stellar form here. He draws Cave swamped in the minutiae of mid-life. His angles sag. His eyes deep in shadow. This is a character whose dialogue is beautiful contradicted by his body language. His words spin lies. His eyes tell the truth. Despite all the fantastic character work though, Carson’s (as it will be known from this point, because screw having to write Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 out in full every time…) greatest achievement is its page layouts. Carson dances on the edge of surreal, playing with an aesthetic similar to Doom Patrol or Doctor Strange.
To best explore Oeming’s exciting approach to how he structures Carson’s pages, first take a look at the cover:
What we have here is a PERFECT representation of the book. The lines emanating from Cave’s titular cybernetic eye carve his face into pizza style pieces . These pieces represent the many directions the book takes and the character is pulled in. The sporadic splicing of the image itself representative of the book’s refusal to be one thing.
With the top and bottom pieces we see Cave’s internals to represent the book’s navel gazing. The two pieces packed with Silver Age comic panels represent the books pulpier tones- it’s big, old fashioned, sci-fi ideas of robot eyes and alien monsters. Then with the remaining pieces we have scenes of melancholy (a wet funeral & a quiet day out in the forest) to showcase the books more muted aspects; its exploration of depression & ennui.
In one image we have the entire 22 pages summarised: it’s a navel gazing book about malaise set in a world of Silver Age style bombast. To convey this in one picture is remarkable. The level of cleverness and thought showcased on this cover is rife on every single page of the book. Oeming and Filardi have done incredibly special work here and should it continue, Carson could grow to be, on the art front, the most special book of the Young Animal imprint.
Story-wise Carson’s greatest play is tone. Cave wonders directionless through his world like a super powered Jack Kerouac creation- beautifully offset by the near cartoonish colours. In a fiction story-world inhabited by Gods like Superman and monsters like Batman, an apathetic protagonist is a refreshing break. Not everyone can relate to losing their parents like Bruce. Not everyone can relate to a conflicted sense of where you belong like Kal. But we can all relate to feeling sad like Cave.
Carson’s stumble from perfection is story structure. In this one issue we have a million ideas and a cavalcade of guest appearances. It’s all a little too much, especially for a #1 issue, leaving little focus on Cave himself. He is present in his own story, but feels inactive; more a bystander than a participant. For Carson to soar to the heights it’s nearly reaching, Rivera & Way may want to scale back. Maintain the same level of ambition, but spread it across an arc instead of condense into each single issue. This is a book jam packed with ideas. That’s no bad thing. Each idea is relevant and exciting. But each idea deserves a little more breathing room.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 (go on then, it deserves its full name) may be the most experimental book yet to come out of DC’s experimental Young Animal line. It takes the visual flare of the other titles (such as Doom Patrol & Shade, the Changing Girl) but pairs it with more sophisticated themes and maturer ideas. Should, in future issues, each idea get the breathing room it needs, Carson could grow to be one of the more exciting series to come out of DC in a long while: an indie book hiding under DC garnish.
Oh… And brace yourself for the final page: The most unexpected comeback in years….