3 out of 5
Well, the good news is that this ruins the “gotta get ’em all” Young Animal allure, and so maybe my reading stack will decrease by a few millimeters.
The appeal of a mature, Vertigo-esque line of (I believe) in continuity DC titles is undeniably appealing. For sure, we’re not expecting the JLA to show up every issue – and we don’t want them to – but to be able to acknowledge Batman and Superman in a book with R-rated language is fun, and (finally) indicative of an awareness / acceptance of your reading demographic as, at least in part, adults. That this line – Young Animal – would be run by Gerard Way was a plus/minus for me, as I really dug Umbrella Academy but really undug Killjoys, the latter being closer to the kind of navel-gazing Black Mirror nonsense I’d imagined a guy from My Chemical Romance would write. But he had a cowriter on the title, and it was actually based on his songs, so maybe my opinion wasn’t so slanted (besides an apparent emo bias), and maybe free of that MCR direct association, he could make another Umbrella Academy. So final judgement withheld, with a wait and see approach to Young Animal.
In a way, I will still be waiting, because the first half of this arc was set to completely have me on board (for at least this title) PLUS change my ambivalence regarding Michael Oeming’s art to utter praise. Those initial issues are a hoot: taking a golden age character I know I’d never heard of before and doing his idol Grant Morrison proud by shifting the spelunking, robotic-eyed adventurer to the present – his kid hates him; his wife died – Way, and co-writer Jon Rivera, key in on the surreality of memory – amplified by the way Cave’s eye apparently records everything – to craft a sad, weird, reminiscence of an old man looking back on adventures passed. Oeming ends up matching this flow amazingly, with loopy page layouts and an awesome mash-up of four-color comics / psychedelic colors from Nathan Filardi. It’s like a detuned version of the imprint’s Doom Patrol; that is, the same sense of anything-goes storytelling, but without the Dadaism the other title requires.
A visitor from the Muldroog – an underground race to which his wife belonged – has Cave gathering the old team and re-stealing his old cave-diggin’ mole machine to investigate a potential conspiracy involving rebranded EBX company for which he used to work. Once this element is introduced, the action hits hard and fast, our trio of creators pulling out all stops to hurtle Cave and team toward their Muldroog destination, EBX baddies in hot pursuit. The fun and intensity of this was palpable; I couldn’t flip pages fast enough, and I was blow away by the page-spanning, space-filling optics Oeming and Filardi were laying down.
And then… and then… in issue four, I suddenly realized I no longer cared. Exposition dragged on; sequences felt jerkily stitched together; character motivations weren’t understandable, and even the art fell apart, back into what I’d consider Oeming’s bad habits of forgetting to define where we are in a scene, both in space and time. I wish I could say this was an off issue, but no, the remainder of the arc read the same, except it got less enjoyable as it went on, since the feeling stacked up. There also crept in a balefully forced sense of “mature readers” swearing that in no way added to the plot or characters, coming across as a four-letter wink to the reader just to remind them that they’re swimming in the big boy pool. Y’uh huh.
Now: I experienced this “divide” in my reading experience live; that is to say: I read all six issues in one go, and literally went from smiles to frustration with the story’s direction when I passed the midway point. I went back over the pages, compared layouts, trying to understand how, exactly the story shifted. It’s somewhat laid out above – that it went from goofy pulp with tragic undertones to erratic comic book nonsense plus swearing – but I did notice something specific, that may just be coincidental: Issues 1-3: Written by Gerard Way and Jon Rivera. Issues 4-6: Written by Jon Rivera, story by Way and Rivera.
It might not mean anything.
It might mean Way was keeping the ship steered.
Either way, I’m done with Cave, likely, but still waiting on Way.