Alasdair Stuart writes;
Black Mask made quite a splash with the first issue of Occupy Comics. Louis reviewed it over here (Morning, Louis!) and I had stuff to say about it over here (Morning, Nabil!). The gist of it is the book is really good and good in a way which nothing has quite been before. There's a combination of intellect, informed debate and anger at the heart of Occupy Comics that makes it truly unique and I was interested to see if the second Black Mask release, Liberator, could build on that. Created and written by Matt Miner, who's an active dog rescuer himself, with pencils and inks by Javier Sanchez Aranda, colours by Joaquin Pereyra, lettering and editing by Vito Delsante and extras art by Yasmin Liang, the book follows Damon Guerrerro, an animal liberator who surveils, tracks and sabotages groups responsible for animal cruelty. Superficially he's a street-level Batman, and he certainly believes he is, but as the first issue goes on, we find out more about Damon than he may want people to know. It's a great book, angry, assured and cleverly structured and here are five things I liked about it.
1.By night, a tireless liberator of threatened animals
The book opens with Damon finishing up an operation. He rescues dogs being kept by a dogfighting ring and then, once they're clear, burns the ring and the barn it's in to the ground. This is possibly a very dumb move on Damon's part but definitely a very good one on Miner's. We get an idea of how methodical Damon is, how he works and what his concerns are as well as his relative lack of concern for his own safety. We also get confirmation that this work doesn't finish with the direct action; Damon has to find homes for the dogs before he can free them. That sort of extra detail, and refusal to cop out with simple answers, is one of the things that really makes Liberator work.
2.By day, a tired baristaDamon isn't a superhero and Miner makes that point again and again through the book. His day job is just that, somewhere he has to go and stand for eight hours. and we learn a lot about Damon through this sequence. He's not confrontational by nature (at least not at work), he's smart enough to keep personal details to himself and he's also just a little arrogant. Damon's too good for the job, as far as he's concerned anyway, and that's the first hint of a crack in his store-bought armor.
3.Side on side by side
Miner and Aranda's character work is really impressive; these people look real and flawed in a way most comic characters don't. Part of that's down to their ability to capture little character beats such as Damon yawning above, and part of it's down to the script. Miner gives Aranda room to breathe, constantly playing with this wide letterbox-style horizontal panel and keeping the focus jammed in tight on the characters. It's a smart move, emphasizing the personal nature of the book and bringing the relationships that drive it to the fore. This particular moment also elegantly keys us in to both the attraction between Jeanette and Damon, and the fact they're ideologically very similar.
Which isn't to say they think the same. Jeanette's status as a semi-celebrity on the protest circuit is an interesting idea that I suspect the book isn't done with. In the first issue alone it accomplishes three things; telling us that Damon doesn't favor the direct, media-facing form of protest, that Jeanette not only does but revels in it and that she's becoming well known. That last, especially paired with the chilling image of the cop with the video camera, suggests that things will start going south for Jeanette long before they will for Damon. The imagery here also provides a neat, different perspective on the sort of event at the heart of Ales Kot's excellent 'Citizen Journalist' in Occupy Comics issue 1.
5.Any Cause Will Do
Although based on the close of the book, that might not be the case. It's only when we get here that we realize Miner's told us almost nothing about Damon. He's defined by his work and his ethics, and both of those are based on assumptions that fire on a hair trigger. Damon isn't just looking for the good fight, he's looking for the one that's good enough or failing that, the first one he can start.
This entire scene, and the one that follows it, are really smartly played as we see Damon screw up and clearly flash back to something in his past. It's a nasty, uneasy moment that undercuts the working-class hero schtick he's built up around himself and may be the reason why he seems to go looking for trouble in the closing scene of the book. Judging by his actions here, trouble will find him all by itself pretty soon.
Liberator is a fiercely strong, clever book that refuses to preach and takes great pains to explore it's central issue. Make no mistake, it's fiercely pro-Animal Rights and Animal Liberation but Miner is far too smart to use the book as a bully pulpit. Instead, he uses it to explore one man's character and what defines it, from the people he's with to the work he does and the past he seems to be running from. Not quite a superhero book, not quite a crime one but combining the best elements of both, Liberator is another strong release from Black Mask, and is available from Wednesday, priced $3.50. If your store doesn't have it, give them this code to help them order it: APR130919