Geez, this comic creeped me out. There were so many scenes in this comic that were as bizarre and spooky as any scenes I’ve read in a comic. Ever see a room completely covered with cockroaches, to the point where the roaches look like a moving carpet of bug? Ever see a corpse eaten by insects? A guy whose internal organs have exploded? The Exterminators vol. 1 has all those scenes and many more, which gave me one of the scariest and strangest comic reading experiences I’ve ever had.
The plot follows Henry James, a man recently paroled from jail who as a condition of his parole has to go work for the family business, the Bug-Bee-Gone Co., an extermination company. Bug-Bee-Gone employs some of the strangest and most dysfunctional people imaginable, including an incredibly obnoxious guy named AJ who mainlines pesticide, a Zen philosopher named Stretch who has the most bizarre philosophies of good and bad, a guy named Kevin who just seems like he gave up, and a geeky genius named Saloth, who seems to have no life aside from his passion for killing bugs. Meanwhile, Henry has a girlfriend who’s a careerist, and, oh yeah, he’s found a mysterious box that may or may not be significant to the rest of his life.
And there are more plots than just those. Clearly this is heavily compressed storytelling, to the point where the insanity of Henry’s life seems to be overwhelming and all-pervasive. The book moves at such a fast pace that a reader is forces to take all the strangeness, disgusting creatures, poor choices and bizarre characters as they come. There’s no chance for reflection because just as one bizarre moment ends, the next one immediately begins.
What I find really interesting about this book is that the people are just as disgusting as the insects and other creatures. As one character says at his funeral, AJ “was by far the most repulsive little man I have ever had the misfortune to make acquaintances with. If you could look past that, and I don’t think any one of us can, he was a hell of a rat catcher.” Meanwhile, Saloth is disgusting in every scene in which he appears – a scene where he kisses a female scientist might be the most disgusting in this issue. And even Henry, our protagonist, seems to have some real secrets he’s keeping.
Even with the disgusting creatures and awful characters, I found this book to be really fun and interesting. Oliver delivers all his scenes with rare energy and verve. He has an obviously intense passion for his characters and their lives that help carry the story past its very strange moments. The story hurtles along with an immense energy that just adds to the horror of the scenes. If it were slower moving, it would give the reader more time to think about the disgusting scene that just happened. Instead, with its tremendous forward movement, this comic forces readers to take in scenes like the characters do, one moment at a time.
Tony Moore does a great job of illustrating this comic. His world seems realistic, so when the bizarre horror scenes happen, they seem like they could have come right from real life. Some of the scenes are incredibly disgusting, and Moore seems to glory in those scenes, illustrating them with clear passion and energy. Meanwhile, he draws all of his characters with an odd sense of loss to them, like each of them is exhausted from fighting their own inner demons.
The Exterminators is an exhilarating journey into the grotesque, and is one of the most frightening horror comics that Vertigo has ever released. It’s not for every reader – the disgusting scenes really are quite disgusting- but I found it to be thrilling.