Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #128: Guerillas, Vols. 1 & 2 by Brahm Revel

Mad science goes with anything -- that's the glory of mad science. You can have a mad science Western (Wild Wild West), a mad science romantic comedy (Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog), or a mad science Vietnam story.

Mad science is a spice -- you can add it to any dish. It won't necessarily work, no more than throwing curry powder on any dish will work. But you can always do it.

What I have here is a war story with some mad science spice on it: Guerillas, a comics series by Brahm Revel. I recently read volumes one and two; I see that the fourth and final volume was just published last month. (So? I'm a little behind.)

There is a troop (company? I assiduously avoided learning the right names for various-sized groups of uniformed gun-toters) of chimpanzees, deep in the brush in Vietnam in 1970. We meet them in the company of John Francis Clayton, a very new and very inexperienced soldier who just hit the war zone, and, not too long after that, finds himself way out in the middle of nowhere with those chimps after what his longer-serving brothers might have called Seriously Bad Shit. The chimps are the product of only slightly mad science -- they carry guns, follow US military protocol about as well as any other hominids, and do their duty, but don't talk or really walk upright. They're still chimps, just, y'know, soldier chimps.

As John gets dragged along on the chimp's unknown mission, the narrative also follows the actual mad scientist, Dr. Kurt Heisler, who is dragged back from the African savanna to lead a mission (with the usual hard-bitten group of colorful soldiers, each with one trait lovingly depicted) to find out just what he hell happened to those chimps. He brings along a baboon named Adolf, another product of his research -- successful in some ways, but not the team player the chimps turned out to be.

Guerillas from there alternates between the two groups of characters as Heisler's Heroes (note: not actually called Heisler's Heroes) track Johnny & the Monkeys (note: not actually monkeys), with frequent interruptions from the locals, who let us not forget are in the middle of a war and also not terribly happy with the foreigners causing mayhem in their nice jungle.

It's not as silly as you'd expect. In fact, it's all straight-faced, and the mad science is subdued enough that it can be taken seriously by most people who read comics -- if you already have swallowed that Batman can jump off buildings to punch people and Wonder Woman fight crime in a strapless bathing suit, war-fighting chimps aren't anything to balk at. Revel spices it up with a number of extended dream sequences from John's point of view, which are a bit too psychological and on-the-nose for me (he lusts after the unattainable blonde girl from back home! his father's love can only be won with martial valor!) but which do add visual interest and deepen John's characterization.

Of course, this is only the first half of the story. The science might get madder in the back nine, or it might all go off the rails -- that's the inherent danger in a story about GI chimps and the ex-Nazi who made them. But, so far, Guerillas is an oddball but honest war story, as true to itself as a book like this can be, and drawn with a good eye for tone and personality and nuance.

As far as comics about chimps doing stuff goes, this is way up there. And it's got a snazzy title!

No comments:

Post a Comment