Seems like there have been quite a few food or eating-based comics over the past few years. I’d say they’d even become the “comics du jour,” but that would be in poor taste. Still, in the recent tradition of books like Chew, Get Jiro and Starve, comes comicdom’s newest invasion of mastication, Action Lab: Danger Zone’s Voracious. However, is this a satiating comic book experience, or, as its name implies, are its eyes bigger than its stomach? In a double-sized, 64-page issue,Voracious #1 follows Nate Willner, a small-town boy whose time spent living the dream in New York City comes to a screeching halt as tragedy strikes his personal life in a swell of fire. Reclusively slinking away from his friends, his girlfriend and his beloved career as a chef, and back to his backwater hometown of Blackfossil, Nate spends his days marinating in depression behind the bar at a local cafe. That is, until he’s suddenly roused from his doldrums after discovering that an estranged and recently-departed great uncle has left him a chunk of money, a personal secret lair hermitage built into the bedrock of Utah’s remote cliffs... and a goddamn time machine.
The rest of its first chapter you can probably decipher from the front cover: Boy falls through time machine into dinosaurs -> Boy murders dinosaurs -> Boy eats sweet, sweet dinosaurs -> Boy has epiphany about next greatest food craze (aforementioned dinosaurs) and shakes off the lingering funk of his char-grilled loved ones. And you know what? It’s pretty good times! But as I mentioned, it is a book of two halves, and sometimes frustrating contrasts.
The second half of the book sees Nate teaming up with his Manic Pixie Daydream Grandmother, his former co-worker/budding love interest and an old friend of his parents’ to make his restaurant dream a reality, all while beginning his tentative forays into sourcing dinosaur meat (pretty unethically I might add) and hiding the truth from everyone. Woven throughout this half is a story surrounding the death of Nate’s great uncle and benefactor, and his cryptic ties to Nate’s grandmother, as well as a secret they are apparently both trying to hide, upon pain of death.
Voracious #1 starts out phenomenally. Beginning with a bang, that first chapter is a well-plotted, well-paced story that enjoys a great amount of heart and well-manicured humor as it crescendoes into a ridiculously simple-yet-bonkers, old school sci-fi story. Writer Markisan Naso does a great juggling act here, masterfully weaving in Nate’s back story with that of his present... which happens to take place in the past. He affords his cast (mostly Nate) a few great, casually-written one-liners, and really allows the whole to relax into its weird, fun premise.
In the second chapter, on the other hand, it felt like Naso was trying too hard, especially with the trendiness of the book’s humor, which somehow lost all of its subtlety. There’s a lot of needless dialogue here that not only feels forced, but effectively homogenizes the group, making them all sound exactly like the other; thick pretense in the guise of witty banter. Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem I had with the first few pages of the book’s second half: there is a character (Captain Jim) who randomly pops up with beers to establish some hurried connection to Nate’s parents and past, a love interest that feels indelicately hammered into the story, and a suddenly very emo-sounding main character, whose reaction feels almost sophomoric by mid-issue, at least for his established age.
However, before and after the “let’s all have beers” moment, the book relaxes into its fun and easy inner monologues, peppered with one that is written with no small amount of poetry, and which more than hints at a promising backstory. There’ also another scene of Nate hunting dinosaurs, in which this team once again has fun playing with the sheer absurdity of the situation that comes with a book about cooking, distributing and eating dinosaur meat.
Sharing in that cartoonish glee is the art of Jason Muhr, a man who has clearly been drawing dinosaurs from a very young age; or at least that’s what his attention to detail in their rendering would suggest. And while I find some of his figures stiff and his panels distressed by bare backgrounds, suffering from problematic perspective or beleaguered beneath a sometimes too bright palette from colorist Andrei Tabacaru, I do enjoy the look of Voracious so far. Like its story, when it relaxes, when it does not try too hard to be funny or photo-referenced, it is able to elicit some very powerful, very funny acting.
I’m definitely going to stick with Voracious for the time being. Like so many Action Lab: Danger Zone books that have come before it, this is a comic with great potential, both in its sense of humor, its artistic reach and the intriguing unfurl of its highly entertaining story.
Voracious #1 Writer: Markisan Naso Artist/Letterer: Jason Muhr Colorist: Andrei Tabacaru Publisher: Action Lab/Danger Zone Price: $4.99 Release Date: 2/10/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital