The Comic Book Club: Night Animals and Batman Inc.

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EVAN: “Bad Friends” comes across as feverish, lurid and terrifically manic. The cartoonishness at the beginning completely set me up for the sucker-punch of a shock ending. The little girl’s sudden puberty gets played for laughs, with one breast popping out in surprise followed by the other. You feel sorry for her, but feel like things might work out once she falls asleep with her stuffed animal. Then a creepy Pan-figure shows up with a phallically-placed flute, and away we go again. I loved the birds spelling out “YMCA” at the top of one page. A lot of this story feels like classic kids’ literature characters coming together for their version of Hedonism, with this poor little girl as the main course. Again, this one had a ending I didn’t see coming. In retrospect, the truly horrific finale is totally telegraphed if you read this as a fable–Pied Piper, anyone?–but the visual tumult on the pages distracts you from that.

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DOUGLAS: The ending, to me, seems more like not-quite-horror disguised as horror: a metaphor for “wait, where did her childhood go, it was just here.” But yeah, the form of the story is “and then she goes back to her own bed and everything’s normal again,” as in Sendak, and that’s not what happens. I didn’t notice the YMCA birds until you pointed them out, but that’s fantastic–one thing Evens does both here and in The Wrong Place is tuck telling details in everywhere, just to do it. There’s a lot of great kids’ literature whose subtext is about what’s going to happen to those kids a couple of decades later; both “night animals” and “bad friends,” as titles, could refer to the creatures we see in the girl’s room. (That Pan-figure, by the way, is straight out of Sendak.)

Maybe my favorite thing about this story, though, is the way Evens uses just two colors, red and black, in incredibly inventive ways: absence of color as light (the lightning bugs!), a shift from red as a shocking spot in a black-and-white world to the dominant color in that sexually charged demimonde, and finally the presence of the solid red sex-beasts as transparent phantoms in the monochrome line-art world. Gorgeous, disturbing, brilliant.

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GRAEME: This really is a disturbing story, almost from the start for me. (A start that really reminded me of Kate Beaton, actually. Am I alone in that?) The sudden maturation of the girl didn’t seem comedic to me, but more… worrying, perhaps? Worrying for the girl, I mean, and that set me up for the idea that something was going wrong. If anything, I read the story in reverse, and thought that as she followed the Pan character to the (more colorful, more adult, more sexual) nightworld, she was beginning to enjoy herself more, and that it was a metaphor for coming to terms with sexuality, and then there’s that ending, which just… Oof. It’s incredibly powerful, not once, but twice; firstly, when the family discovers the girl is missing, and then the search, with the ghosts of all those who have kidnapped her hanging around, as if to tease that they’d just been there. It’s an impressively powerful story – especially after the danger-defused-into-whimsy ending of the previous one – and one that’s going to stick in my brain for awhile.

EVAN: One story starts off bizarre and winds up happily (er, kind of), and the other story starts off mundane and ends tragically. It’s creepily compelling how Evens throws Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey and Hustler into a blender and comes up with this. Night Animals grossed me out a lot but entertained me even more.

DOUGLAS: One other detail: I am delighted that this slim 48-page entity is a genuine comic book, staple and everything. It somehow feels more special that way than it would if it were a, you know, “graphic novel.” I can’t explain why. But it’s the sort of thing I would be only too happy to find next to my Batman comics every week. Speaking of which: let’s talk about Batman Inc. #3!

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