Clarity in comics is a tricky thing. It is the nature of sequential images to rely constantly on the reader to piece each static scene together into a narrative whole. Further, while it can be an author's goal to keep the plot mysterious, the action depicted in the book need always be easily understandable. After all, there is a huge difference between not knowing about a character's mysterious past and not understanding what character we are seeing. Nearing the close of its second arc, Rumble is struggling with a lack of clarity, but I remain unsure exactly which sort. As Rumble #9 begins, we are shown a four-page flashback depicting Rathraq (in his former state as a Kratos-like warrior) brutally murdering a fertility goddess. The scene is, as per usual, rendered beautifully by James Harren with brightly colored, entertaining monster designs and an unusually well captured sense of movement. Unfortunately, as author John Arcudi transitions the scene into the present, I almost immediately lost any sense of the significance. After that scene, the cast discusses the concept of half-breeds monsters as though the story was supposed to imply a human-monster relationship which, after a reread, I am still unclear on. As the plot progresses, involving an attempt to rescue some of these half-breeds, I could not shake the feeling that I was repeatedly missing important story beats that were meant to be present.
Rumble is from it first issue, a simple if bizarre premise: what if Conan the Barbarian was trapped in the body of a scarecrow? Yet somehow eight issues later, the book still seems frustratingly hard to grasp. The tone is confusingly mixed between slapstick comedy which works quite well and dense fantasy which works less well. John Arcudi is a veteran of BPRD and Hellboy where the mix of humor and fantasy was always a staple. However, this book lacks the strong characterization and focus that made those books work. While the human side of the Rumble cast has gone through some much needed development, the monsters remain little more than a series of made- up names like 'Espesianotos', 'Uchirane', and 'Xotlaha' (which are increasingly hard to keep straight). Even the world itself seems oddly undefined. For example, in this issue a pop-culture reference caught me off-guard as somehow in nine issues, I had never thought this was supposed to be the real world.
All that negative said, there is something admirable about Arcudi's apparent desire to mix genres in new and unexpected ways. While the pure fantasy parts remain a weakness, the images of increasingly bizarre and gooey monsters fighting an emaciated scarecrow in dark alleyways has an inherent charm that is hard to ignore. One arresting moment this issue involves a skeleton armed god posing a war veteran held at knife point by an old man with six arms: an image which is strange but also indelible.
Further, while I wish the shifts between humor and darkness were more gentle, Harren's art sells visual jokes beautifully. As Rathraq waxes eloquent about the pain and turmoil of his life, he freezes and yells "AWAY!" startling the cute, frog-like monster watching him from behind. In its ninth outing, Rumble continues to have all of the elements needed for a good comic. Unfortunately, it also continues to have far too many of these elements.
Rumble #9 Author: John Arcudi Artist: James Harren Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 (2.99 for digital) Release Date: 11/25/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital