By Jonathan Edwards
Fun fact: I wrote a sample review for the first issue of Cannibal as part of my submission back when I first applied to be a reviewer for Comic Bastards. My main reason for doing so was that, while I'm normally not a huge fan of zombie media (partially due to the oversaturation and subsequent plurality of content using the premise merely as a gimmick), this was ostensibly a zombie comic that I ended up liking for its particular approach and twist on the scenario. And, I hadn't even been planning to read it. The only reason I did pick it up the week it came out was because I saw it next to the other couple Image books I had intended to buy. It was one of those impulse buys that I'm glad I made, and I figured that might lead to some sort of interesting review. Since then, I've kept reading the series, so when I saw the first trade up for review, I thought I'd go ahead and throw in my two cents on it.
Now, the big thing that Cannibal has going for it is that the "zombies" (the eponymous cannibals) aren't actually zombies. They're people. Do they have a persisting hunger for human flesh? Yes. However, they're also entirely sapient. They can and do feel the urge driving them, and a lot of them fight it as best they can. Of course, since the hunger derives from an incurable disease, it's more or less inevitable that the afflicted will eventually lose control. Secondary to that, human society has, by and large, stayed intact, at least so far. I really like both of these ideas. Human trust and tragedy are easy themes for really any apocalyptic/post-apocalypse story. Yet, in that setting, the argument against helping others tends to hold more weight. The uprooting of society and destruction of what one loves is bound to have drastic changes on everyone involved, so it's a bit easier to argue that a character should or must look out for themselves and/or their group over any perceived outsiders. Furthermore, those outsiders are subject to more intense scrutiny, as they might be planning the to do the same thing. Whereas, the people in Cannibal are still very much retaining the community and lifestyles they grew up with. As such, the conflict becomes a question of how much of what the characters' think they know is true about their world actually is. Has the relatively invisible threat pervaded it to the point of perversion? Or are they finally learning that there was more to the reality they thought they knew?
Speaking of characters, the book primarily focuses on the Hansen family, the brothers Cash and Grady and their dad, Rick. They all live in Willow, Florida (Grady having just gotten back into town), where the cannibal problem is starting to get a bit more out of hand than anyone initially realizes. I have to say, the four issues that make up this first arc are probably better read as a trade than month-to-month. The overall pace is on the slower side, and the story does somewhat rely on building off of what was previously established. It's the kind of book that's likely going to be more difficult to get into the later you try. That being said, I do like the story and the writing quite a bit. Admittedly, a couple of the story beats end up being more traditional and perhaps somewhat easy to see coming. But, in my experience, when that did happen, it was right before it was going to be revealed anyway, and I was still invested enough for it to have at least some impact. Something in particular I like about Buccellato and Young's writing is their characterization. There's some nice nuance in how characters interact that does imply that these are people who know and care about each other. For a quick example, in the first issue, Grady (who I believe is the older of the Hansen brothers) gets irritated when Cash refuses to come along with him because he has other plans. And then, during a scene the next day, we see Grady idly wondering about Cash is going to propose to his girlfriend. Aside from some juxtaposition to the scene before it, that line really doesn't much of a purpose in the greater narrative than to show us that Grady, is thinking about his brother. It might be a small detail, but when I first read it, it totally resonated with me. I really got the sense that, despite their disagreement, Grady loved Cash and was interested in his well-being.
Although, I think a big reason this book works for me is the art. Matias Bergara's pencil do a fantastic job of capturing emotion in facial expressions, and it adds so much. On top of that Bergara's inks and Buccelato's colors are great in creating a noir-ish aesthetic and tone, and it's all too perfect for portraying the themes and darker moments of this book. I don't really know what else to say. It's just some really good stuff.
I think Cannibal, as a series, is greater than the sum of its parts. Each issue is good (if not great) in its own right, but through their progression an interaction with one another, it becomes as much about what we aren't quite seeing than what we are. This first volume is the perfect way to check out the book for yourself, which I definitely recommend doing. And if it clicks with you like it did with me, issue #5 is just on the horizon, set to release in May.
Cannibal vol. 1
Writers: Brian Buccellato, Jennifer Young
Artist: Matias Bergara
Colorist: Brain Buccellato
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Publisher: Image Comics