Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Bug! The Adventures of Forager 1, originally released May 10, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: One of the inherent problems with superhero stories is that the characters are often immediately knowable. That guy in the bat costume? He’s Batman, dead parents, war on crime, world’s greatest detective. You know him. You know his secret identity, his home, his son, his butler, his past, his present, his future. That makes Batman familiar, comfortable. In Bug! The Adventures of Forager 1, Lee and Michael Allred make an argument for the power of not knowing, striking out boldly with a story that is as enigmatic as their main character. The thing is, they deploy just enough alluring clues and leading hints to get readers guessing, leveraging what we think we know against what we’re still ignorant of. It’s a trip.
There are probably a million different ways to read this issue, including one rooted in the deep-dark mythology of Kirby’s New Gods. I’m woefully underprepared to speak with any kind of authority on the character of Bug, but the Allreds’ script gives us just enough early on to orient readers like me. This opening sequence is one of those Herculean efforts that Michael Allred conquers with dope fucking grace. Our action is always interrupted by these narrow black panels filled with panicky text, and the density of information only grows as our eyes drift down the page.
The first row of panels presents the most literal questions of the issue (and, indeed, of Forager’s life) — why is he more like the New Genesis Eternals than a bug? There’s only one interruption in that row: a lonely “wait.” The second row starts to abstract that question a little bit, now with three interruptions, all of which revolve around what it means to “just” be a bug. The text is directly contradictory — the narration says “I’m more than just a bug” while Forager’s own speech balloon says “Orion? I’m not like him.” The third row flips the question of identity around from Forager’s perspective to other’s perception of Forager. The Allreds give us two perspectives that we should understand pretty well: Orion for the Kirby fans, and Batman for the laymen. And the final row devolves into the basest, most irrefutable parts of identity: what happened to Forager. “I lived. I fought. I got squashed.” It’s Forager’s own “veni, vidi, vici.”
That’s where we start: all questions and contradictions. That’s the perfect backdrop for Forager’s encounter with this prophetic teddy bear. I love a good DC comics prophecy — there was a good year or two on this site where I’d post them and try to parse out their meaning — but the domino fueled visions Forager witnesses here are borderline trolling. The Ghost Girl leads Forager to a room full of dominoes, set up in the shape of a motherbox circuitboard. This is already some loaded imagery, suggesting that one knocked over domino will set off a chain reaction. Not wanting to deal in subtlety, Allred turns the dominoes into New Gods.
Allred’s action figure aesthetic is just about perfect for this kind of gag, and Laura Allred’s shiner-than-usual colors help sell the game-like nature of the prophecy. When Forager knocks over the first domino, things get fucking nuts. We start getting one-off cameos from characters like Deadman, OMAC, and Metron. It’s enough to drive the obsessive reader back to their long boxes, spreading their back issues out like a conspiracy theorist struggling to make connections. It’s the same kind of visual we’re getting from the little girl.
So, okay, can we figure this out? I’m not convinced that we can — or that we should even try. The Teddy Bear sets up a dichotomy: resist or obey Darkseid, either way your actions are reactive to the will of Darkseid. That leads to my favorite sequence in the issue, and something I’m choosing to read as Rosetta Stone for this series. Teddy refers to French absurdist Albert Camus, and he and Forager take a second to riff on his funny-sounding last name. Mind you, this a comic book, so it’s not immediately evident that “Cam Moo” is a joke Forager is making about the way the name is pronounced, or a reaction to his own question “Kam-who?” Or maybe even Camus’ philosophy, which tries to make sense out of the power of the unknown. But, y’know, are characters are too busy cracking jokes and knocking down dominoes (SO BORED. BORED AND IGNORED.) to find any enlightenment there.
The Allreds are effectively taking a piss at the expense of a thinker who asks precisely that of his followers. And I guess that leads me to my central question: should we be looking for this narrative to make sense or to be fun? It succeeds as being immensely fun, but the thing loops back around on itself like version of Inception that trusts its audience. Are we learning about Forager’s real identity or just having a rollicking adventure through Kirby space?
Drew: Is there a reason it can’t be both? I absolutely agree that these creators have a strong absurdist streak, but they’re equally adept at landing real emotional blows for their characters — I’m thinking particularly of their work together on the conclusion of FF, which balanced serious emotional honesty with moments of pure silliness. Like you said, this issue is a ton of fun, but it would be difficult to argue that Forager’s identity won’t be an important thread going forward.
And, honestly, framing his identity as a mystery is a great hook for newcomers to the character. This issue throws a ton of goofy mythology at us, but the Jason Bourne-iness of our hero waking up and not knowing who he is or how he got there is an easy foothold for neophytes. We don’t need to recognize Bug or where he comes from to want to discover that along with him, and the fact that he doesn’t know makes him an ideal entryway into this universe. A voyage of self-discovery doubles pretty well as a character introduction.
But obviously, some of the appeal here is the promise of exploring Kirby’s contributions to the DC mythos. With so much recent work on FF and Silver Surfer, Michael Allred has become somewhat of a modern interpreter of Kirby mythology and designs, and this series offers an opportunity to expand that beyond Kirby’s work at Marvel. We get the New Gods (including those cameos from Scott Free and Metron) and the Bugs, but we also get Sandman (and henchmen Brute and Glob), a Kirby character totally unrelated to New Genesis. (And his costume does seem to suggest that this is Kirby’s Garret Sanford Sandman, rather than any of his predecessors/successors.) In that way, this really is an exploration of what Patrick called “Kirby space,” rather than a New Genesis story. Perhaps we’ll run into OMAC or Kamandi or Etrigan in subsequent issues.
Of course, Kirby obviously isn’t the only influence here. Michael Allred draftsmanship, expressive line, and comfort with cartooning certainly recall Kirby, but some of his storytelling sensibilities are decidedly more modern. I hate to attribute shot choices specifically, but I defy anyone to look at this panel and not immediately think of Frank Quitely:
Seriously, this almost looks like a page out of Flex Mentallo. Allred even seems to adopt Quitely’s distinctive ligne claire inking style, using a uniform line weight for the dominoes, backgrounds, and most importantly, the little bits of texture that cover every wall. Intriguingly, Allred doesn’t do this with the figure of Forager, keeping the expressive, dynamic lines we so associate with his style.
There are other explanations for this — Allred tends to use uniform line weights for backgrounds and man-made objects (like dominoes) — but the shot from this low angle feels particularly Quietly-esque, lending this moment a kind of early-Vertigo feel that I think is important to the DNA of the Young Animal line in general. This doesn’t need to turn into an essay on the aesthetic of Young Animal, but it’s safe enough to say that early Vertigo had been an important role model for the line, with two of its initial four series directly continuing (or at least riffing on) two of Vertigo’s first series. That’s a tricky aesthetic to try to square with Kirby’s brand of sci-fi fantasy, as so much of early Vertigo was about subverting those kind of earnest expressions of genre. Indeed, Gaiman’s own Sandman featured the old Sandman (albeit the Hector Hall Sandman, not Kirby’s Garret Sanford), only to reveal that all of his adventures were literally a dream. Perhaps Young Animal’s own reverence for Vertigo makes that kind of disregard of the past impossible, but it’s clear that the Allreds are expressing a fealty to Kirby’s mythology that straight-up wouldn’t have fit in at Vertigo. They’re having too much fun with this sandbox to ever want to smash it to pieces.
And ultimately, it’s the infectiousness of that fun that really matters. Where those early Vertigo creators found fun obliterating comics mythologies as we knew them, the Allreds have circled back to finding fun in those mythologies themselves. I’m not yet equipped to get all of the references, but it’s clear enough how much fun it can be. I think we’ll get more to hold onto as Forager gets his footing, but for now, I’m happy just to be along for the ride.
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