There’s only so much killing a person can take as a reader, but The Humans have yet to get there. Despite the high levels of continued violence in The Humans continued massacre against those that killed Johnny and other members of their gang, I remain as awed as ever by Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely’s ability to make art from decapitation and severed limbs. With the Human’s determined to kill off Abe and his personal army, the penultimate issue of The Humans’ first arc ups the stakes for Johnny and the biker gang, moving players into position for one more brawl while showing the continued destruction of what remains of Johnny’s ties to his pre-Vietnam life. After killing Moz via bike tire at the end of last issue, Johnny has yet to rendezvous with the other Humans. Doc, the oldest Human, worries that their defacto leader has lost his mind, and that he’ll likely lead them all to an early grave. Once Johnny reappears he convinces the other Humans, including Bobbie’s widowed girlfriend Queenie, to take on Abe at his company fortress even though it will likely mean all of their deaths. The rest of the issue follows the assault on Abe’s castle with all of the present Humans getting a moment in the spotlight as they tear through Abe’s police defenses with the help of some skins hopped up on spazm, a drug that causes users to temporarily become insane, hyper violent, and wickedly fast.
What I find most impressive about The Humans is how Marshall, and Neely combine their skills with the help of colorist Kristina Collantes to choreograph action scenes that remain kinetic even after pages of continued fighting. I believe this is largely due to each of the Humans’ personalities coming through in every punch and spiked bat swing. When they first arrive at Abe’s compound, Johnny goes in first armed with a grenade, his favorite weapon, and with it takes out a first wave of police officers along with the drugged out skins unconsciously aiding them. His efficiency in killing as many officers as possible shows his complete lack of empathy as well as exhibits his combat experience wherein anyone who isn’t your ally is sometimes considered fair game. Then we’ve got someone like Karns, the second-most deranged of the Humans, who rides his bike around the battle slicing heads off like a pro still riding the high from chopping off the head of the Skabbs last issue. Meanwhile Mara, the poet of the Humans, gets his moment saving a fellow Human from being shot, and taking the bullet himself and then using his signature bandana as a wrap for his wound before jumping back into the fray. It’s a moment that reinforces for the umpteenth time that he is the coolest of the Humans. During most of these spotlight moments, Collantes and Neely leave the background without any detail but solid yellows, blues or reds, putting viewer’s attention squarely on the characters as they fight for their lives. Besides the people themselves, the only other things in each panel are the blood spray from hits and Neely’s fantastic lettering that’s the visual counterpart of a screech.
Some readers may argue that between this and the last issue, The Humans has become squarely focused on displays of violence without any of the substance of the initial issues, yet Johnny’s dramatic self-destruction functions as the main emotional focal point. When Peggy shows up after Johnny convinces the Humans to fight Abe and his arm, she makes it clear that she’s given up on him, calling him nothing more than a shadow of the person who left for Vietnam. In the panel where Peggy says this about Johnny, Neely illustrates Johnny as a decaying version of himself, confirming for the reader that Peggy’s view of Johnny is probably accurate. With Johnny losing Peggy, the love of his life, he loses one of the last tethers to an alternative life without the rage and violence that have characterized his return to Bakersville since issue two. Things now feel set up for very bad things to happen to Johnny next issue, and although losing him would be losing the comic’s best character, it would make sense that this still-moving corpse would finally achieve some level of peace in death.
One of the best things about this issue as well as is that it gives more attention to the women as active members of the Humans rather than mere groupies. With earlier issues, I tended to feel a slight unease as a result of them most often being solely objects of desire. Here though, we see Queenie and the other female Humans immediately sign on for the assault, and their moments during the fight are easily some of the best. Whether it’s Queenie leaping off her cycle to easily take down Rugg, the police chief, or the other three female Humans accidentally torturing someone due to their poor marksmanship, theirs were definitely the scenes that had me thinking, ‘that’s really fucking badass.’ I’m hoping that the last issue gives us more of these kickass women even as it focuses on Johnny’s showdown with Crispin and Abe.
Possessing a level of energy the equivalent of five superhero event comics, The Humans continues to be the best month-to-month action comic. Marshall and Neely are fearless in their depiction of violence and savagery, yet make it all work thanks to having Johnny as the book’s emotional core. Whatever happens to the Humans next issue, I’m hoping that Johnny can achieve some closure even if it means the death of every other Human. I feel for the guy that much.
The Humans #9 Writer: Keenan Marshall Keller Artist: Tom Neely Colorist: Krisitina Collantes Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 11/4/15 Format: Mini-Series, Print/Digital