Unlike its insect counterpart, the human metamorphosis never really ends. We transform depending on who is around us and what we're trying to do. And in the case of the family unit, we sometimes transform together and sometimes transform at odds with one another. If there's a theme to the first issue of Erick Freitas and Ulises Farinas new Monkeybrain anthology Amazing Forest, it's this concept, the notion of the mutating family unit, on the individual and group level, the micro and the macro. Across four stories Freitas and Farinas work with an eclectic array of collaborators to depict metamorphosing families who are transformed by and serve as infection, who come together through curses and abductions, who linger even after that most final of metamorphoses, death.
“Tank” kicks off the collection and it could be seen as the first stage of Freitas and Farinas' own metamorphosis, serving as the closest brethren to their previous collaboration, Gamma. Like Gamma, “Tank” is a cuddly nightmare, a funhouse mirror take on an RPG staple, though in this case it's closer to Dragon Quest's slimes than Pokemon. Depicting a future world where mankind is mostly restricted to life in titular tanks due to an invasion of extraterrestrial slimes with the ability to take the shape of our friends and loved ones, “Tank” hones in on the claustrophobic feeling many of us have likely experienced when surrounded by loved ones. The twist here, of course, is that these aren't real family members but slimy imposters reaching out for infection and simply taking the forms they think are the best possible lures.
Julien DuFour's art in the story has the mutant feel of Farinas' Gamma style but with a dose of Warren Mag pulpiness, the character and scenery designs granted a heft that Farinas' looser aesthetic doesn't utilize. While the rest of the anthology has more of a DIY indie comic texture, DuFour's work is comfortably familiar, making it a wise opening salvo. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Yumi Sakugawa's work for “The Bird Watcher,” perhaps the weirdest story in the collection and the most unflinchingly arty of the bunch.
Like a more folkloric Phil McAndrew, Sakugawa isn't afraid of white space or barely there shading, favoring soft shapes and minimalist features over intense detail. Freitas and Farinas' script for “The Bird Watcher” is equally minimalist, its story told through the kind of near autistic speech that was also peppered throughout Tom Kaczynski's Beta Testing the Apocalypse, which makes sense given its subject matter. Following an obsessive birder who eschews real human interaction in order to better pursue a freakish owl with human features, “The Bird Watcher” explores how we often push our loved ones away in an attempt to follow our dreams and passions. Despite the nearly alien speech patterns used in the story, it's one of the most moving segments of the collection due to its bleak but honest ending, a comment on the isolation many artists feel when they realize they can never quite capture what they're pursuing. And of course, by the time that realization hits, it's too late for a new metamorphosis.
Farinas' solo story effort “Wolf Mother” takes a different tact by placing its focus on the lengths we'll go to protect our loved ones, but a somewhat confusing narrative (it's clearer if you keep the title in mind throughout) and inconsistent art from Matt Rota prohibit it from reaching the same emotional heights as “The Bird Watcher.” Rota's style is scrappy and expressive, but his creative use of perspective and anatomy is sometimes more interesting in theory than execution. Rota's figures often have the lankiness and misshapen forms of Playdoh people, stretching from frame to frame like they lack skeletons. His technique is unique and promising, and by the end of the story he crafts some startling, beautiful images with breathtaking coloring, but altogether his art could have had more of an impact if he embraced his weirder habits more, especially since Farinas' script has the structure and tone of a fable.
Where “Wolf Mother” features somewhat bland characters in order to fit its storybook aesthetic, “Ronnie the Robot” has well-developed characters that demand a fuller story, with its ending seeming like more of a beginning. Set on a farm that could be from the same world as Rick Remender's Fear Agent, “Ronnie the Robot” is about not letting go of hope no matter how bleak the situation seems. In this case, that's in regards to a family with a missing dad, who appears to have suddenly returned in robot form. Melody Often's art is charming and grafts a sweet innocence on top of a story that has a macabre edge, though her coloring has a muted flatness that doesn't do her linework justice. Nonetheless, “Ronnie the Robot” has a lot of room to it and could easily be expanded with the story's twist serving as its own kind of hook, as the family grows comfortable with the perplexing new form dad has taken.
Amazing Forest on the whole is an especially promising debut and if Freitas and Farinas can maintain this quality, there's no reason why the series can't reach the levels of predecessors like Flight and Popgun. The diversity of the creators involved and the unique style easily make it stand out in a crowded marketplace, and Monkeybrain is a perfect home for an anthology like this, giving it the room to develop that it needs and likewise benefiting from the addition of such a superb and thoughtful anthology to its line-up.
Amazing Forest comes out Oct. 23rd, but you can preorder it now on comiXology!
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter egos at Fitness and Pontypool.