I'm not sure that it's Ryan Ferrier's fault that 'Kennel Block Blues #2' is such a scattered, hectic fever-dream. Four issues is an odd length for a mini-series (though seemingly the standard format for Boom!). Five issues is long enough for an opening arc, and six makes for a nicely well-rounded mini (see last year's excellent 'Wild's End'). But four is short, requiring an author to balance world building (which the anthropomorphic world of KBB requires) and plot development in the early issues before launching directly into the denouement. It's a tall order--frankly I'm not sure I've read a four issue mini that quite worked-and 'Kennel Block Blues' seems to be buckling a little under the pressure. I don't mean any of that intro to sound flippant, there's a lot going on in issue two, and some of it is very interesting. But I'm also increasingly having trouble telling exactly what the focus is supposed to be. This issue sees Oliver's roommate execute an escape attempt with the help of two drug-addled hippies, a plot which takes up most of the issue. To perform this escape, the dogs have to make use of the hidden map created by the late (well, probably late) Cheddar who scrawled it into various books at the prison library. From there on, it's a rollicking escape in the spirit of The Great Escape and The Shawshank Redemption, and this part of the issue works really well. A series of close-calls with guards (who remain oddly unseen) and tense last minute adjustments are a classic setup for tense action sequences and all that works well. Sadly, the subplots of the issue bog everything down.
Firstly, there's a seemingly random one page of Pickles the crime boss in a sauna discussing with his lieutenant the place of authority within the ranks. It's not a bad sequence, but it's so brief as to not add anything to the issue beyond an odd break from the main plot. But the main distractions in this issue are of a more surreal form. Oliver continues to intermittently have his delusions of musical cartoon sequences that are increasingly out of place. In the first issue they established the mental state of the ostensible lead, but just one issue in, they are distractions from an already over-complicated plot. Specific mention goes to the library sequence where Daniel Bayliss' already complex paneling is literally torn in two by an intrusion by Oliver's psyche. To put it simply it's messy.
But perhaps the single greatest problem with Kennel Block Blues, is its weird, semi-supernatural undertones. We discover in this issue, some disturbing things about the Kennel and its mysterious minders, but there's still not much in the way of context to understand it. I would imagine the prison's guards are humans, but I am unclear if this is assumed, a surprise, or a misreading of the situation. Further confusing the issue are the occasional intrusions by the ghost black hands that literally pull characters out of the prison. These mysteries are weird and intrusive, feeling disconnected from the rest of the story. Perhaps if the nature of the prison were the focus, it would feel more cohesive, but as is, it feels like too much to cover in the four issue framework of the series.
A prison drama with anthropomorphic animals is a solid, if unrevolutionary, fare for a comic, but for better or worse Ferrier clearly has something more ambitious in mind. The issue ends with a new wrinkle to the prison's increasingly bizarre mythology (which appears to tie together the hallucinations with the other weirdness of the Kennel) that promises big things to come. With two issues to go I sincerely hope Ferrier has a good plan of how to finish and tie everything together, but even if he does succeed in this monumental task, it may be too late to save what is an increasingly hard to follow story.
Kennel Block Blues #2 (of 4) Writer: Ryan Ferrier Artist: Daniel Bayliss Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/9/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital