Review: Brutal Nature #1

Afterwords in monthly issues are a mild pet peeve of mine. Not one that keeps me up at night, just one that itches at me when I see it. Scott Snyder's 'Wytches' had one in the first issue. Pretty sure every issue of 'Bitch Planet' had one (haven't checked in a while). They aren't always terrible and you can always not read them, but there's a part of me that always feels like the writer busting in right as I finish the last page, eyes bright with excitement, as they can't wait to explain what everything meant and how cool what they wrote was. Don't get me wrong, I like the Insider's Look. I subscribe to Warren Ellis's Orbital Operations newsletter which often spoils his motivations before his comics even reach publishing and I have Darwyn Cooke's Deluxe 'New Frontier' on my bedstand to read his detailed linear notes on his inspirations for that tome (complete coincidence, RIP you goddamn magician). But there's a certain amount of trust I feel a good comic has when you turn the final page and are left to linger with whatever last image it concluded on. Instead, the credits roll and over the scrolling text a voice pops in: 'Hello, and welcome to the director's commentary for what you just watched...' Sometimes though, I wish a book I finished did have a detailed afterword. Not usually because I was engaged, I prefer to process a bit on my own before ceding my interpretation to the artist, but rather because I wanted to know the motivation for something I didn't connect with was. I can interface with 'The Prestige' perfectly on an emotional level without needing to hear what Chris Nolan dug from to make that film, but I'd love to hear a commentary for 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' to hear just what it was that the filmmaker's thought they were doing or where they were at when they made the choices that resulted in that film.

BrutalNature_01-CVRBoy, what a long bullshit opening to say I basically didn't get anything from this book.

'Brutal Nature' isn't fascinatingly bad, it's not even really awful to begin with, but it does leave me to wonder what the goal was. Why these parts, in these ratios? It's an unusual combination and the book doesn't seem crafted to plug in to some preexisting niche, so clearly the writer had a story he wanted to tell and an artist who was the right match to bring it to life, but what was I expected to feel? What was the seed that 'Nature' sprouted from to be this?

'Brutal Nature' is a vaguely historic fantasy set during the Spanish conquest of the Americas, about a magically empowered native called Ich who uses masks to transform into powerful animals to kill the shit out of Conquistadors. The Powers That Be in the invading empires catch wind of supernatural derring do in the jungles of America and organize some sort of puritanical response, pitting the forces of Inquisition Christianity against the primal magics of Ich and his land.

We don't get a whole lot of time with Ich. He's magic. He was given a motivation by the end of the issue (beyond killing Conquistadors for fun and profit). My mind pulls up a scene from the Red Letter Media review of 'The Phantom Menace', where an interviewee struggles to describe the character of Qui-Gon Jinn for the filmmaker ('He's....stern?'). His motivation is flimsily generic and lacks even the basic schmaltz most people use to sell it, and he hasn't developed a personality yet (nor seems likely to acquire one). His power is cool, his bear form punches people's heads off and that's cool, but that's a album cover not a character.

I didn't do a page count, but we seem to spend a lot more time in the book with the villains, mostly pretty standard Judge Frollo types. We know they are bad because they are Inquisition-era Spanish conquest-era Christians. Along with Nazis, kid diddlers, and whoever the leads are dating at the beginning of a romantic comedy, we already know we're supposed to not like them. There'd be room for something interesting here if the book was a proper historical fantasy, in the vein of something Jodorowsky would do, where research and historical perspective was present, but accounting for my own lack of expertise on the subject, most of what is presented here feels as loosely historical as a Western; an archetypical environment that just happens to be sort of set in a specific time and place.

So it's not really about history, how about action? There is a scene of it, and then our protagonist is unconscious for a good chunk of book while the villains talk. Interesting dialogue? It often feels noticeably awkward and wooden, though it appears the book was translated from another language which might be a reason for that. How about a simple story with a strong plot? The book ends on a note we don't have a lot of context to understand, with only the idea that various characters are moving in relation to each other.

Art? Does it at least have good art? Sure, somewhat. The artist has a developed photopainting style that results in some impressive visuals, especially involving giant bears punching people's heads off. Vibrant colors, neat details. However, while I don't know anything about the artist, I have a sneaking suspicion that they work as a concept artist or some other related industry. The character's faces, while well lit and detailed, often have stiff expression. There is an extensive use of photo textures in place of brushwork, a common concept art technique to save time, giving some panels the uncanny look of a rendered Maya project. Characters are painted and then occasionally reused, like assets, in multiple panels. It's really weird to look at art that is both so vibrant and richly detailed, and yet feels as if the visuals were cobbled together. It works when you are constructing a studio art piece, but it feels inappropriate in the sequential medium.

A paragraph at the end would have been nice. 'You were supposed to feel * blank *'. Maybe excited. Maybe intrigued. Maybe angry that the Spanish killed  n' tortured a lot of people in the name of God. Feeling conflicted about what you should be feeling or what you are feeling is an interesting thing to play with in fiction. It's uncomfortable for the audience and might make them challenge their opinions or leave them to experience uncommon sensations. The question that is good to ask is why or should I have felt the way I did. The question you don't want an audience asking is why didn't I feel anything.

[su_box title="Score: 2/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]

Brutal Nature Writer: Luciano Saracino Artist: Ariel Olivetti Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 5/18/16 Format: Print/Digital