What do you get when you cross Conan with a rat? Jack Natari, of course! Granted, he's a little more literate than your average thief, but he makes for a solid, compelling main character. I've always been a fan of fantasy tales, so it came as no surprise that I was instantly drawn to Land of the Rats after reading the summary of a rat/human hybrid's perilous journey from captured thief to savior of the world. Not only does Land of the Rats use swords and sorcery to form the basic fundamentals of the storyline, but it has the special ingredient of a truly great main character in Jack Natari.
This trade paperback includes four stories. "Gastrolithicus" is the first in the series that starts off Jack's journey, showing the drastic change in his character from lowly thief waiting to be executed to a formidable warrior, a leader of men. I was enthralled with each tale, but this first one spoke to me a little more strongly than the other three. When Jack hits that bottom and has nothing left, instead of simply giving up and dying, he draws on an inner strength and fights his way through. He kept that true strength after his test with the monster too. Even after he fights his way to safety, it isn't simply enough for him to rejoin the other captives. Instead, he fights and claims the mantle of leader and steps up to an even higher level, which was actually pretty inspiring. He also had another mental change after the test with the Gastrolithicus monster. Not much is mentioned about his life before the very beginning of the book when he was a thief, but Jack seems to morph into more of a warrior as time went on. That included his insights of right and wrong. In the next story, "Woman from Iltharra," Jack goes out of his way to warn someone of a plot against him. You wouldn't expect something like that from a common thief, so that's the first clue we're given as an audience that Jack's journey is steadily aging him and changing him into a more tempered person.
Main character aside, Land of the Rats has much more to offer. Everything from monsters of seismic proportion, swords, magic, boobs and some amazing artwork that distinctly sets Nasso's work out from the rest of the rag-tag comics. The first two stories, "Gastrolithicus" and "Woman from Iltharra," are more about Jack; how he became who he is and how he's changed. The last story is an extended tale broken up into two parts. "Encounter in the Vastness" has more of an epic feel to the plot, bringing in dragons, enchanted artifacts and a villain who wants to destroy the world via necromancy of the armed masses. The fact that throughout the series you get a little localized adventure and a broader scale battle was something that I greatly enjoyed. I've noticed that most fantasy/adventure stories usually start off localized to introduce the characters and then sweep out to include more of an epic plot and Land of the Rats follows the general rule without bringing the standard monotony into the mix.
This was my first venture into Nasso's work and my mental capacities were captivated by his artwork. Granted, the book is done completely in black and white, and I know a lot of people protest the monochromatic color schemes for some unknown reason, but it really works well in Land of the Rats. There's not much shading, it's all done in bold, thick lines. It has a kind of tribal feel to it; makes it feel like you're reading an ancient chronicle, which definitely adds to the reading experience. On some of the pages, the artwork takes precedence over the writing in more ways than one, meaning there aren't the standardized panels most comic readers are used to.
Overall, I found Land of the Rats to be a treasure to read and I'd easily recommend it to anyone who likes a good fantasy tale. It's the type of story you can kick back with after a long day that'll whisk your mind off to another dimension for some relaxation time. I loved this story and I'm hoping Mark Nasso will write more Jack Natari adventures because I'm totally hooked. I expected to like Land of the Rats, but I didn't expect it to run right up into my top comics list. This is a damn good series. Go read it.
Find out more about Land of the Rats at The Underground Forest.
Felicity Gustafson was born in Ohio and, after the astounding realization that there was more to do than look at trees and cows, she decided to become a nerd and got into comics, anime and video games. At Comics Bulletin, she sticks mostly to reviewing things out of the horror and comedy genres. She spends most of her time working in the manufacturing industry, finishing her computer degree and steadfastly avoiding ham fat at all costs.