Mad Cave Studios is a Florida-based comic book publisher which was founded in 2014 by CEO and Chief Creative Officer Mark London. As a relatively new publisher, they have focused on a handful of titles including the Battlecats series that follows a group of elite warriors known as Battlecats. The first story arc of this epic fantasy, “The Hunt for the Dire Beast,” introduces and follows the five warriors as they carry out King Eramand III’s edict to kill the Dire Beast in La Marque.
When I looked up this comic online, the synopsis promised time-hopping and alternate timelines. In this first issue, at least, there is nothing like that. Still, there’s plenty to hold your interest and keep you entertained.
This is a very strange story, as Morty (also known as Evil Morty) finds himself ready and willing to do the unthinkable: take on the council of Ricks in an attempt to stop the collection and forced combat of Mortys. In doing so, Morty has put a huge target on his back, drawing the ire of the Ricks, as well as many others. This is all to say that this world is pretty messed up, and the alternate reality where Pokemon-style hijinks ensue causes some ridiculous and hilarious things to happen to poor Morty.
The Kingdom is an area of land that is both self-sufficient and self-governing. It’s run by two brothers, Bruce and Robert, who are at odds with Sheriff Humbert on the outside in Cargill. People in the Kingdom live in relative peace, but when threatened, they aren’t about to let it go without a fight. After a wily and chaotic first six issues that dove almost immediately into an all-out battle between the Kingdom and Humbert’s men, the book has taken a sharp left turn into what was merely a subplot in the first six issues, but it was the story I was waiting for.
I wrote in my review about issue #24 of Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s Harrow County that it felt like a punch had been pulled just as it was about to land. The conflict between two friends, Emmy and Bernice, suddenly enemies, like a ticking bomb, was seconds away from exploding. At the last second, someone unexpected - though logical enough - slipped in and cut the blue wire. In spite of this, we were left with a cliffhanger: a foreboding one. In issue #25, that punch that was pulled has become a knife sinking into a gut. That explosion has been redirected elsewhere. To say it’s effective would be an understatement.
Issue #7 opens with a beautifully eerie, noir moment of headlights gradually approaching through the darkness. The brightness pops out of the dark surroundings but still distorts our ability to see anything clearly. Neil Gaiman is a narrative master of distorting fantasy and reality (The main character’s name is Shadow, after all.), and Scott Hampton’s illustrations perfectly capture that technique. In this series, we never really know whether we can trust what we see, especially with the frequent re-occurrence of magical illusions, ghosts, and gods.
The Mouse Guard Alphabet Book is exactly what it sounds like: an alphabet book grounded firmly in the fantasy world of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard cannon. For those who are entirely unfamiliar with the world of Mouse Guard, it is a fantasy space that centers on the trials and challenges of a mouse civilization whose collective survival depends on their adopting a united front in opposition to mouse-predators, such as ferrets, owls, and foxes. Mouse Guard, like many fantasy texts, has a bit of a medieval-inspired feel, and generally reminds this reader of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series.
Indie comics have always been a haven for the oddball, bizarre, and subversively humorous. Scapula and the Sinister Monster Doom Legion (created, written, and illustrated by Aidan Casserly) definitely checks off each one of those categories, and its lead character, while definitely earning his title of “the world’s worst villain,” has his own unique version of scummy, dirtbag charm that will certainly connect with specific readers who love crass, underdog baddies with lots of ambition.
I want to be able to tell you that you should just read this series. Trying to describe what makes it so fantastic frequently feels like revealing too many of its secrets. But, I suppose, this wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t talk about it a little.