John Amor’s “The Urban Animal #1″ tells the beginning of the story of a young man (apparently in college, although he looks like a high school kid) who crosses the wrong person and is placed under a monstrous curse–although, to be frank, none of that is evident from the cover, which does a poor job of giving the prospective reader any idea as to what the comic will be about. The cover also does little to showcase Amor’s stylized art, which is a shame, given that the art is the highlight of Urban Animal. Amor has a hyper-expressive, stubby-figured style that reminds me of the early work of Humberto Ramos. While there are some panels where the facial expression of the characters seems off, or where there were better angles from which to view the scene, the art in general is clean, bold and sufficiently detailed–though nowhere near as polished as Amor’s more recent work (Urban Animal was drawn ten years ago, and the comic released by Super Debil Robot Comics contains the original art, touched up slightly). The artwork reaches its pinnacle toward the end of the issue, where the story takes a step toward horror, of the “creature feature” variety.
That being said, there’s a big difference between, say, “King Kong” and “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus“. While Amor says that his “pop-culture mash-up description for [Urban Animal] would be The Catcher in the Rye meets The Incredible Hulk…”, the foundation of the story laid out in the first issue makes it difficult to see how Urban Animal can achieve the element of pathos that is so important to the two classic tales he mentions. My main problem with this issue is that the incident which causes the protagonist of the comic to be cursed is so petty, for lack of a better world. Motivation is key to the realism of characters, which in turn makes it key to my ability to take a story seriously, and the antagonist just doesn’t appear to have a realistic motivation. (The “tan-tan-taaaan” sound effects, and the snarky reaction of one of the members of the crowd when the creature makes its appearance on the last page of the issue, also undermine any sense of drama the scenes would otherwise have had.) It’s entirely possible that Amor’s intent is to have a silly, light hearted monster romp (Amor does go on to describe Urban Animal as having “some Archie thrown in”, a franchise not well known for its pathos), but, sound effects and motivation aside, the antagonist acts more sinister than kooky, so it’s hard not to get mixed signals.
In the absence of a compelling antagonist, it falls upon the protagonist to maintain my interest in the story. Sadly, in spite of the fact that Joey appears in all but three pages of the comic, the reader doesn’t learn much about him beyond the surface: we know he’s “makulit”, we know he likes “sexting”, we know who his friends and enemies are, but we don’t know what makes Joey tick, what he wants out of life (aside from what a normal hot blooded young man wants). Thankfully, we learn the most about characters when we throw them face first into adversity, and I hope that future issues will delve deeper into Joey’s character, now that he has the curse.
Other issues with the writing include a certain same-ness to the dialogue of most of the characters, as well as a tendency for the script to say more than is necessary (90′s era Chris Claremont aside, short and sweet is usually best when it comes to dialogue in the comics), but these are relatively minor concerns. The art is solid enough to merit Urban Animal at least a look-see, if you stumble upon it in a convention or a store, and with any luck, the succeeding issues will enable the story and the characters to come into their own.
Urban Animal #1 can be ordered via Super Debil Robot Komiks — sdrcomics[at]gmail.com. Review was based on a digital copy furnished by the creator.
P60.00, 22-pages, Colored Covers, Black and White Interiors
It’s about… a mischievous college student who is placed under a monstrous curse.
The language is… English
It tastes like… Humberto Ramos illustrating an Archie Comics Halloween special.