Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Cannibal 3, originally released December 7th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: My wife loves the Scream movies. So much, in fact, that we winced through both overwritten seasons (and feature-length Halloween special) of the MTV series. From the start, the franchise has celebrated its formulaicness, forcing its heroine (and the audience) to suspect each character in kind before ultimately revealing the killer to be the one we least suspected. In stretching that formula to 10- and 14-episode seasons, we’re forced to confront the paradox of knowing the least-likely person is most likely the killer (therefore making them no longer the least-likely), such that the reveal is somehow still a surprise. It’s basic murder mystery stuff, but the series luxuriates in the time between the first murder and the ultimate unmasking of the killer. Cannibal‘s premise is ripe for a similar twist on the murder mystery formula, blowing it up to include the entire town of Willow, but with the added twist that we have absolutely no idea how many killers are out there.
Actually, the issue is structured as a kind of mini-mystery, complete with its own murder and final reveal. That’s a lot to get in one issue, but writers J. Young and Brian Buccellato manage to leave plenty of space for artist Matías Bergara’s atmosphere. Just look at how Bergara sets the scene for that opening murder.
This is such a smart sequence, I want to spend a bit of time with it. That establishing shot, basically looking through a flock of egrets, is a bit unusual. It foregrounds the setting, and the fact that we see it from basically the perspective of these birds gives us an odd kind of objective view of the scene. The second panel feels a bit more traditional as an establishing shot, but as the slow zoom in of the next few panels culminates in a reverse shot back to seeing a shadowy figure behind our fisherman, we retroactively realize that we were actually taking the attacker’s perspective.
Seeing the scene through the killer’s eyes is a great way to keep the killer’s identity secret (and definitely feels more natural than the lengths Bergara goes to to keep the killer’s face out of frame on the next page), but surprising us with that choice emphasizes how little we know about what’s going on. This killer could be anyone — a fact that this issue drives home with its reveal at the end. Of course, switching from that establishing shot to the killer’s perspective and then back (albeit zoomed in) isn’t a shot structure we’re used to, so Bergara cleverly keeps the victim on the right side of every panel throughout the sequence. It’s a disorienting opening, but Bergara makes smart choices to keep us grounded in space.
As with the Scream franchise, this murder isn’t discovered right away, which leads us to make certain assumptions when we shift focus to our familiar cast. Cash is in jail, Grady and his dad are at the bar, and Danny is being made to feel unwelcome in town. This all feels like interpersonal drama that will fall away (or boil over) as the body count rises, but Young and Buccellato are using that feeling against us. When it’s finally revealed that the Sheriff is the killer from that opening sequence, begrudgingly bringing his son human flesh to eat, we see all of the events of this issue in a new light. Is the sheriff really investigating Jolene’s disappearance, or does he know what happened to her? Does Danny’s status as the stranger everyone in town would rather disappear make him an easy target?
Those questions vault this series into a much more interesting premise than the nameless threat of the first issue. Suddenly, it isn’t about outside forces tearing apart a small town, but a town tearing itself apart. It’s suddenly about secrets and not knowing who to trust. These are such alluring ideas, I almost wish this had been the first issue — I know that would come at the expense of some good stuff in those first few issues, but this is where the series really solidified in my mind as a thing I’m excited about. If I had to pick an issue to model the rest of the series after, it would definitely be this one.
Which I guess is to say: that twist really worked for me. Maybe this series isn’t destined to be a mystery, but with a secret like that floating out there, I’m excited for the possibilities. Patrick, I’m curious to hear if you were as enamored of this issue as I was. Or maybe I was just missing this series’ charms before. Reading back on your thoughts on issue 2, it’s clear that this issue is simply building on already established themes, both formally and narratively. Does this issue feel like the logical next step to you, or more like the quantum leap I see it as?
Patrick: Y’know, the mystery that bookends this issue was not what felt like the most impactful part of this story to me. I’ll totally agree that it’s well executed, with some really clever pacing pacing by Bergara in both the opening and closing pages, for me the meat of the issue lies elsewhere. The town of Willow is deeply beset by paranoia, and you could argue that this paranoia is totally justified. There are cannibals in their midst and people are being eaten. I suppose this plays into Drew’s Scream analogy, as everyone has resigned themselves to suspect everyone in due course, but it’s interesting to note how that course selects outsiders first.
I’m talking about Danny, the poor guy that’s already having a hard time reconciling his role in his son’s life and that too-manly need to make his way in the world. The patrons at Hog’s River Bar & Grill are quick to turn on the guy, reading his insecurities as some kind of malicious intent. I love the way this scene escalates, as it all feels so unnervingly calm and natural. Bergara employs a number of tricks to repeatedly express the distance between Danny’s friends and the rest of the bar, sometimes placing us behind Danny’s eyes and other times allowing the space between the panels divide bar tender from bar patron. This page early in the scene in a great example.
Look how small Grady is in that first panel, and compare that to how large Peggy and this mustache-dude are. By allying himself with Danny, Grady has become an outsider. When the camera swings the other way around, the perspective from behind the bar is cluttered with things — bottles and glasses — while all the rest of the people are off in the middle-distance. The rubber really meets the road in the third and fourth panels, as Bergara inserts a panel divider between Peg and Grady, even through they’re existing in the same moment. There’s a slow and steady us-versus-them sentiment being built up visually, so when Danny finally explodes, everyone’s ready to jump on him.
And like, maybe they’re not wrong to dislike him. He does respond to that friendly question with an outwardly aggressive “I ain’t your friend.” We know why Danny’s upset, and it’s all normal, everyday stressors that could set anyone on edge, but the people of Willow take it to be a sign that he’s a potential cannibal. At one point Danny says that his crime is “I wasn’t born here.” The justice system in Willow is such that it’s protocol to arrest people accused of biting “no questions asked.” Mind you, that’s a policy being articulated by someone that we see eating a dude just a few pages later. But that articulates a new theme for series – that any institution that attempts to enforce a law based on fear is likely scarier than what they’re trying to control. If this were a vanilla-apocalypse story, I’d call that out as trite — basically every zombie story ever is about man’s solutions to the problem being worse than the problem itself — but in the context of this small town beating back the end of the world, it’s chilling to see this abuse come from those in power.
I’m also glad that we got to check in with Louise and Boone, if only for a minute. Young and Buccellato do such a great job of writing both the kid and people talking to a kid. There’s that kind of natural artificiality to everyone’s interaction with him – like, I’m enamored with Grady’s “Back atcha, pal…” to Boone’s overly polite “Nice to meet you.” Plus, Bergara draws the kid like a kid, weird fidgety posture, ill-fitting hoody and all.
All of which is to say that I think this series gets stronger with every issue. Drew, I think you’re right that this would be an effective starting point, but only because its so thematically rich. But then, the first two were similarly rich. It’ll be interesting to see how all these characters and all these themes dovetail together – especially now that we can see this common thread of the Sheriff being the real threat woven through everything.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?