Mulp: Sceptre of the Sun (#1 – 5) – Matt Gibbs

2 out of 5

As I believe I’ve stated before, I’m a confessed sucker for anthropomorphic books.  (Y’know, of the non-furry variety.)  Especially when they’re of the cute n’ liddle variety: walking and talking mice, gerbils, etc.  I recognize I’m not alone in this, given that there are a handful of variations on that setup, but I think Mulp’s mash-up of rodents in pants plus an Indiana Jones 30s-era archeology romp was new to me, and the bright, buoyant pastel-ish colors over the slightly European style of artist Sara Dunkerton’s cover and the comic interiors immediately gave the book a fun and adventurous tone.  Mulp’s also a funny word.

Writer Matt Gibbs leans into the Indiana Jones thing, with an adventurer, and a fussy sidekick, and an older professor, and extends the cast further with the professor’s daughter and a reporter, all brought together to nab an ancient artifact – capable of some yadda yadda power – before the bad people do.  Gibbs’ writing is a bit stiff – the line between jokey and serious dialogue is hazy, and no one quite has a strong personality so much as an archetype of one – but the breezy way the story falls into hijinx and suss-out-the-location mysteries via investigations of maps and ruins matches the hoped-for adventurousness, so it initially gets a pass.  Meanwhile, Dunkerton works well on scenes without much acting, but their style doesn’t lend itself too well to action; to begin with, though, Mulp is all about setup, and so the book still maintains a good pace.

As we go into issue 2, these caveats become more of an issue.  Gibbs doesn’t write scene transitions well – we jump times and locations mid-page without much sense of closer – and his sentence structure in exposition-heavier moments can prove problematic, as something that was apparently intended to be a plot point to remember is buried as a single word in an unstressed part of a sentence.  So our hunt for the titular sceptre starts to have less immediacy, lost behind hand-waiving explanations that the reader can only really follow because, well, we’ve seen National Treasure and the like.  And as more baddies come into the mix – more undefined characters – the need for gunplay and choreography increases, and Dunkerton falls behind.

These problems just compound as the series goes on, dragging the story out through locations that are too generic, and dropping cast members in and out in a way that makes the lack of individual personalities clearer, in both the writing and, alas, the art: with a lot of people on page doing similar things (and way too many back-and-forth who’s-got-the-gun power struggles), the small visual cues like ear and tail styles aren’t enough to easily keep who’s who straight, especially as the color palette goes murky when we’re inside caves and ruins.

By the last couple of issues, Mulp really feels like it’s trawling through every Indy trope it can, and none of it feels much justified.  Despite my grousing, I have the utmost respect for anyone who commits to and completes a project like this, and Gibbs and Dunkerton stuck it out.  Unfortunately, I think the story construction and art requirements proved beyond their means, making the latter sections of the story quite a slog.

Mulp is still a funny word… although I’m not sure I ever caught on to what it means.