One of the best things about independently produced comics is that the creators can experiment within a series. In the corporate grind or even the smaller publishing circle that’s not something that happens. You deliver a product and the expectation is that you’ll continue delivering the same or a similar product thereafter. The thing that I like about Land of the Rats is that each chapter is different from the next. The narrative, the structure, the pacing; if it wasn’t for our unified world and main character you could mistake each issue for an entirely new series. The biggest experiment for the series comes with the first issue. We meet the main character Jack Natari as he escapes from captivity after being imprisoned for theft. He’s freed by a mysterious source that ties into later issues, but basically he’s on the run and can’t go home. While he’s wandering this new land far from his home he’s picked up by slavers. They of course put him to work, but he runs into problems with the other enslaved men that “run” the place from their side of things at least. The charm of this issue is that there is very little dialog. The story is narrated to us via third person omniscient and frankly it really works. For me it made the issue stand out the most as I was very curious to see where the story was going and if the presentation could be maintained for the entire issue.
With the second issue the story shifts into more of a fantasy adventure story. The narration is all but lost as the characters and art drive the story. Jack has just rescued two people from the clutches of evil, but while they’re camping out he falls asleep away from camp while thinking of the events that have altered his life. When he wakes up and heads back to their camp he finds both of the people he saved dead. The final two issues tie into each other and the event that freed Jack in the first issue.
One of the strongest elements of the story is that Jack is constantly learning. He’s not perfect by any means and never once pretends that he is. He’s also the type that unfortunately learns every lesson the hard way, sometimes whether he likes it or not. In the first issue he learns that he’s not a leader. It’s a tough lesson and he learns it to the utmost extreme. In the second issue he learns that he’s also not a hero, but that he can’t best every enemy either. I can’t tell you what he learns in the final two chapters since that’s basically the point of that story, but he continues to learn and grow.
Creator Mark Nasso does a great job of giving Jack’s journey meaning. He’s not exactly Conan just traveling around and finding trouble to get into. He’s closer to a John Carter, but what Jack doesn’t know is that he’s avoiding his destiny. Nasso’s experiments in the storytelling worked for me. I’ll admit that it was a heavy shift from the first issue to the second, but it didn’t hurt either story individually.
Nasso’s skills as an artist also improve as the story continues. In the first issue his visuals are strong, but they don’t carry as much of the story as the narration does. In the second the art tends to carry the story more than the dialogue or narration; while the last chapter finds a balance between writing and art. The series is in all black and white and while the style grows and changes for the most part it has thick line work and heavy rich black shadows.
One negative that I had, was that even though the last two issues are clear extensions of each other, overall the series didn’t feel connected. At one point I wondered if I read something out-of-order, but that ended up not being the case. The different issues actually act like different volumes and so they’re not really supposed to be experienced back-to-back the way I read them, but then again it could be and it just didn’t click with me. It was an entertaining series and again I liked the fact that it took chances and changed the way the story was presented. That kept me interested and plugging along through the series. If you’re looking for a fantasy adventure that’s different from the norm then check out Land of the Rats.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Mark Nasso Publisher: The Underground Forest Price: $4.00 each Website