“Ruxby will never forget the hulking figure, standing there to make sure he knew the faces of each prisoner ever to enter his prison.
Man O’War is huffing out more orders to the inmates, but Ruxby can’t hear anything over a sudden realization he should’ve had days ago.
Ruxby knows a lot of these faces, and they know him.”
The first collected volume of Torsobear stories was one of my surprise favorites last year, one of those rare finds where I wanted to tug on everyone’s sleeve and say, “You’ve GOT to read this book!” So, when the opportunity to read the next volume came up, I was almost hesitant to pick it up. How could it live up to the benchmark set by the first volume?
Incredibly easily, it turns out.
Coming off the heels of Volume One’s epic tale of the newly badged detective Ruxby Bear and his partner (the grizzled, old wooden cop) Hazzbrow’s search to find the Torso killer threatening Toyburg, creator Brett Uren picks up the noir reins and dives right back into this Crayola-colored nightmare of a world, where your toys’ darkest nightmares are just the beginning of their tales.
In the opening story, “The Switch And Stitch,” Uren sets the story in motion with Ruxby Bear finding himself wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and he has to seek the answers to who framed him while confined to the Corner, a prison located in the farthest reaches a toy can get from ToyBurg. And, Lt. Hazzbrow conducts his own investigation on the outside, learning that the corruption and degradation threatening Toyburg may reach higher than he ever imagined.
But, in between and complementing these two arcs, Torsobear #2: All Stitched Up runs 150 pages of darkly-drenched, fluffy noir goodness in one of the best anthologies of the year again, with 16 new stories just rife with femme fatales, corrupt cops, and broken-down soldiers looking for a last chance. And, with such a rich playground, it’s hard to pick any single one as the best, so here is just a sampling of three particularly effective tales:
-“A Tale of Woe from De-Fluff Row” (Script, Art, & Lettering by Edward R. Norden): The closest tribute to the classic noir genre in which bruiser bear Cuddles Calhoun falls for the wrong girl and ends up paying the ultimate price.
“Carly continued her song. From her elevation on high, she met his gaze and shot him a look that could bust the spring off a slinky and melt the cogs of an automaton.
In that instant, she had him like prey in a magnetic fishing game. He was hers: magnetic hook, line, and sinker.”
-“The Cult of the Collector” (Script by Blenn Moane/Art by Renzo Rodriguez): Stretcho Savage returns from Volume One, bringing a new tale of the Collector, and begins building a cult of faith in a place without hope. You’ll never look at the toy booth in a convention the same way again.
“Every prisoner is a trophy to him,” Stretcho told them. “He enjoys looks at them in their plastic cages.”“He likes the look on a toy’s face as it screams for its release. The screaming is music to him.”
“I was brought to this almighty being to be shown what’s in store for us. What we all have to look forward to, good and bad toy alike!”
-“Semper Fidelis” (Script by Kieran Squires/Art by Benjamin Ling): In which Lt. Hazzbrow makes his painful way back to Toyburg after uncovering the revelations of the killing fields outside the Craftlands, hoping that the cancer inside him doesn’t kill him first.
“Before him lies the aftermath of a great war. A war he once fought in.
A war which everyone lost knew as “The Saturday Morning Wars.”
A time of great conflict.
Toys vying for power and control.
Toys breaking other toysfor more than popularity.
His stomach churns, but it’s not the memories. It’s something inside him.
He looks around at the parts of the fallen.
Toys of great honor and value.
Toys he was proud to call his brothers.
“I’ve got the Rot,” he thinks as he spits out dry shavings.
Imagination was lost in the carnage of advertising and sales. What a waste of playtime.
And, in the end, there were no winners in the war.”
This doesn’t even touch on the stark, black-and-white tale of the toy that believes that God has told him to become a serial killer, or the tragic tale of a Magic Eight Ball that loses everything when he loses the ability to predict the future, or the one . . . well, you get the drift. You’re a smart lug, wise beyond your years. Do yourself a favor, Muggsy, and pick this volume up. You’ll be Aces & Eights with all the skirts, and the Big Boys will know not to mess with a palooka like you.
VERDICT: FIVE Supercharged D-Cell Batteries out of FIVE!!