“Blood Lagoon” is the sequel to GrindHouse’s earliest iteration as Doors Open at Midnight; more specifically, it’s a follow-up to its very first short story in “Bee Vixens From Mars.” So, to get in the mood, I poured myself a tall glass of gin, steeled my guts and read back through that first double-sided trade. And christ-a’mighty, you guys. I almost forgot how ludicrously great that story is; how unrelentingly gruesome and unerringly outrageous. Needless to say, being that this follow-up would be helmed by the “Bee Vixens” creative team, I was pretty jazzed about its arrival. But could “Blood Lagoon” possibly compare with GrindHouse’s OG hit? Honestly? It’s hard to say... “Blood Lagoon” continues sometime after “Bee Vixens” left off, with cycloptic, cigar-chomping badass, Garcia, all patched-up after a semi-self-inflicted gut-puncture wrought by the deadly butt of a ravenous alien bee queen; and thanks to the convenient talents of ex-KGB cyborg research specialist, Sergei; not to mention the down-home kindness of his boyfriend, Wayne. (Wow. It may be complicated, but I love the hell out of everything in that sentence.)
On a last gasp to regain his erstwhile father’s love, Wayne snags a ride with Garcia to tell the conservative lout about his upcoming nuptials to Sergei. It’s all going horribly wrong, when suddenly it gets even worse. How, you ask? Gigantic mutant ticks, doy. As a hilariously bemused Garcia is once again forced into fleeing from and/or fighting mutated insects, she leads a motley crew of survivors through a fun story thick with the exploding insides of house-sized bugs, 50-cal-toting Black Panther monster truck death-mobiles, random Doraemon cameos and the inescapable charm of general small town panic.
After reading “Bee Vixens” immediately beforehand, I have to admit that, despite its ridiculous premise, “Blood Lagoon” was kind of ... soft ... at least by comparison to its prelude. But god knows what de Campi has planned. Given her (and I say this as a compliment) “fucked-up head,” it’ll most likely be something great.
Still, while having some exceptional, subtle character work during the issue, the writing is pretty on-the-nose at times. I know that’s standard fare with a clear exploitation trope, but it still gets a little heavy-handed; like when one character looks directly at the reader to make social commentary, light-hearted though it is.
Another errant step in my view - and this may be more of an artistic beef - is when the issue shows a mutant-tick dying in a super Looney Toons way. I know this kind of thing most definitely goes down in the old monster flicks this issue is based on, but pulling the ol’ “inflate the baddie like a balloon” gag was just a bit too “Wile E. Coyote” for my liking, even in a story like this.
But these are relatively small complaints within the measure of a story I otherwise really enjoyed. What’s so damn great about these Dark Horse GrindHouse stories, and what makes them some of my favorite books on the market, is the way de Campi and her rotating teams approach the conceit of each one; using it as an over-the-top framework to tell often deeply character-centric tales.
The setup before the big monster reveals in each book is fantastic, giving the reader a surprisingly (for the genre) multi-dimensional understanding and appreciation for their usually anti-establishment leads. As I said before, “Blood Lagoon” feels a bit different in that it’s perhaps a hair less deft than what I usually love about de Campi’s craft, but it remains top-drawer comic bookery. Need I remind you of the Black Panther monster truck? Because, again, that happens, my friends. And it’s kind of glorious.
As always, Chris Peterson’s loose style melds perfectly with any story, and “Blood Lagoon” is no exception. Of course, he and de Campi have a history of working on this series together to great results; along with returning colorist, Nolan Woodard, who casts the whole of the story in an evocative sunset hue. Like de Campi’s writing, the artistic team’s tandem prowess works best during the story’s most intense flourishes, but is captivatingly expressive in the issue’s more intimate liner notes.
In a similar way - and I’d be derelict of duty if I didn’t mention this - Francesco Francavilla’s cover is absolutely perfect. I know; shocker, right? Never before - at least in recent memory - has a narrative ethos and cover art direction so perfectly evoked than in the union of Francavilla and GrindHouse. If I can borrow some thematic theater from the book’s premise, “It’s a match ... MADE IN HELL!!”
I have to say that “Blood Lagoon” is not my personal favorite GrindHouse story. It’s still an incredibly enjoyable read, but for now I see it as the tantalizing appetizer to what I expect will be a full-on, bloody gorge in its second part next month.
GrindHouse: Drive In, Bleed Out, “Blood Lagoon” Pt. 1 Writer: Alex de Campi Artist: Chris Peterson Colorist: Nolan Woodard Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/25/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital