Urban Savage (#1) – Brandon Nelson

2 out of 5

This gets off to a really strong start, dropping a string of very random sights / concepts on us, but not leaving is adrift in them – writer Brandon Nelson has a punchy, forward momentum style that he combines effectively with the slacker attitude of one of his lead characters to make the alien world of Urban Savage come across naturally, inclusive of its portals to junkyards, presidents from other planets, talking cats, and etc. 

This organic vibe extends to the banter between our principles: alongside “the Savage”, we have his lawyer “friend, Rick;” the two have a seemingly acrimonious relationship that may involve just being a lawyer and client, but also seems to involve lots of drinking: the book opens with the duo waking up to discover that Rick had crashed a car into the Savage’s mobile home. …He was on his way with some beer, natch. 

This stuff is arted to us in a crunchy, early Fegredo style by Claudio Muñoz, whose black and white lines do much to add to the organic nature of the affair, the look straddling a line between the norm and the surreal, adding the aliens and robots and whatnot into a crummy city setting, but not overplaying either part. While the Savage’s cat may look a little funky – animals are hard! – the character models and eye direction are otherwise solid and the page flow dynamic, even in a mostly exposition based book. 

This all sounds good! So… why the low rating? 

Well, look, it goes like this: via some lampshaded exposition dumps, we learn that the Savage has a special power allowing him to reach into dimensional portals and procure things from junkyards, and those things are bartered or sold for his (and sometimes Rick’s) livelihood. After a fashion, it’s clear this is going to be moreso just joke fodder than a clear plot point, which is fine, except the aforementioned slacker ‘tude of the narration kind of prevents even good joke fodder from really being pursued. Instead, we half-ass our way through a tale about getting Rick to court on time, and the issue is focused in the hijincks that happen between here and there. That the book can’t quite settle on whether it’s building a world or just being jokey is enough to chill the positives a bit, and the story side steps we take are firstly very forced, but then also expose some problematic and tired viewpoints that read like amateurish attempts at shock humor. This is personal preference, but Nelson’s specific take on this style really rubbed me the wrong way, and it began piling on such that the easy-going aspect of the narrative felt more like a bug than a feature – i.e. that he maybe just wanted to focus on the shock humor asides, then had some random ideas to throw on top of them. The final page suggests there’s more to the concept than that, and it’s possible that “more” would subvert what I didn’t appreciate about the tone, but the damage was already done by that point. 

So: the preview of this book’s first few pages rightfully drew me in and stands up, but the remainder tarnishes that quite a bit, admittedly tapping into humor that just doesn’t work for me, and thus probably hitting the rating a bit harder than usual as a result.