ANIMOSITY #1 / Writer: Marguerite Bennett / Artist: Rafael De La Torre / Colorist: Rob Schwager / Letterer: Marshall Dillon / Aftershock Comics / Jan 31st, 2018
It feels weird jumping in to review a series twelve issues in, near the end of a story arc, but Animosity is among my favorite comic universes right now. I have plenty of experience under my belt reviewing superhero material, but Marguerite Bennett’s Animosity universe is a different beast. It is a response to human culture, specifically Western culture. The basic premise of this universe is that one day all animals gain sentience (referred to as The Wake) and fight back against the cultures that repress them Sometimes they resist what came before but sometimes they simply reinforce it.
This series is also a statement on violence and this storyline is especially pertinent to it. A farming community made up of both humans and animals (the Orchard) enslave members of The Hive, a nearby community made up of bees. Our main character, an eleven-year-old girl named Jesse Hernandez, finds herself at the heart of this conflict when the bee community responds to the kidnapping of their queen by stealing Jesse’s friends until she returns their queen to them. The Orchard is presented as progressive in the Animosity universe, a communion of both animals and humanity. This idyllic community is built on the exploitation of certain animals, the bees.
Does this sound familiar?
Because of humanity’s tampering with the cultivation of the Orchard, they need bees to pollinate their crops. The bees want to live as part of The Hive, which comprises a unity of multiple hives under one queen. The Orchard responds by killing and enslaving them to maintain their control over the land. Mittens, an animal from Jesse’s past who she later runs into at the Orchard, explains that the bees are considered awake just like all the other animals, but they are exploited because they are just too quiet to hear for the most part.
This feels like a literal interpretation of how minorities are treated as the smaller, less heard communities in North America. The issue sees Jesse bring the queen bee back to The Hive, but too late to stop the bees from preparing an assault against the Orchard. Bennett explores this conflict by creating a fascinating bee culture that she only briefly delves into in this issue and the previous one. The entire Animosity universe is well crafted, exploring ideas such as what a shortened life cycle means in a world where everyone shares the same level of intellect. It is a universe I could lounge in endlessly, but Bennett does a remarkable job of showing aspects of her universe, making interesting moral asides, and moving the central plot of Jesse’s story forward.
Death hangs over this series, and this issue does an excellent job of building dread with a sense of impending death. Previously Jesse’s one human companion, Kyle, betrayed her briefly in favor of the Orchard before saving the imprisoned bees. The implications of his actions haunt them as they escape from the Orchard. Jesse’s imprisoned friends are also revealed to be deathly susceptible to the bees’ who prepare for a violent revolt. While one character’s fate is left uncertain, the death in this issue manages to shock and places Jesse in an interesting position for the next issue.
There is also the matter of the mystery around the death of Jesse’s parents. Jesse’s guardian, a bloodhound named Sandor, is heavily implied to have played a part. This comes to the forefront when he confronts Mittens towards the end of the issue. Previous issues have documented Sandor’s love for Jesse’s mom, Shannon, but just the look of pain on his face when Mittens accuses him speaks volumes.
Rafael De La Torre is an excellent artist choice for the universe. His heavy sketch lines are perfect for creating detailed emotional responses on animals, especially animals that have heavy folds like Sandor or fur like Pallas (a lemur that is part of Jesse’s company). His human faces do not fare as well, but Jesse’s face is largely devoid of lines which makes her the most well visualized of the human cast. He does a lot with the resizing of mouths for bold emotional reactions, and he uses a lot of thick lines to create a strong sense of motion. In an interesting contrast to his sketch lines, his backgrounds are filled with pointillism that often obscure unfinished details in visually exciting ways. A heavy rain falls in thick lines that clash against the points that make up the bees and their environment. The details of The Hive, filling up and pouring out of a large water dam, are astounding, and Torre does a good job of establishing location with big page splashes that have smaller action sequences panelled over them. These smaller panels often take the shape of honeycombs, which is a nice detail in the panelling of this bee-centric chapter.
I have some minor complaints with the art, though. Potter—the elk member of Jesse’s company—carries grenades that hang around his horns. Despite giving chase for most of the issue, we never see them in a state of motion. The interior of The Hive becomes a repetitive golden backdrop with little detail that characters are overlain. And some things, such as the honey on Jesse’s clothing, lack a strong physical presence thanks to weak inking.
Very few comic books have life until colors and letters are added. Rob Schwager pulls coloring duty on the series and does a lot of remarkable work. The rain comes with dark blue backgrounds that contrasts well against the fires, explosions, and lights in the outdoor scenes. Schwager also uses impact coloring to cast the entire panel into a bold color to indicate something, such as the collision of a tractor into a tree. His fire and light sources cast plenty of shadows that obscure some of the weaker facial expressions. And his coloring within The Hive at war steals the issue. Unfortunately, there are a few visual continuity issues such as different colors for the tractor lights during the Sandor and Jesse scenes. Smoke also fails to stand out visually against the heavy dark blues of the rain clouds.
Marshall Dillion letters the series and he does a stellar job. He uses area of effect lettering which is when the letters remain within the visual confines of the art. Examples of this are the hiss of an engine remaining with the boundary of the steam ventilating or the explosion sound effects remaining within the blast radius. His letters will often move outwards from the object they originate from to create a sense of motion that guides the eye along the art. And he visually reinforces Bennett’s script through indication of the different volume of each species through lettering effects and dialogue bubble shapes. Dillion’s overlain letters enhance every scene they are in.
Verdict: Animosity #12 is a strong issue in a phenomenal series. It explores culture in allegorical ways and creates a rich universe in response to our own. Rafael De La Torre, Rob Schwager, and Marshall Dillion bring this universe to life with a strong unity that covers the weaker aspects of each other’s departments. A strong sense of approaching death ratchets the tension up in this issue. Once it arrives, it leaves our central character in an interesting position at the head of this conflict.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Bumblef***s