I can’t remember the last time a comic has packed so many haunting moments into a single issue. Animosity grabs you by the lapels, on average, about once a page as writer and creator Marguerite Bennett shows us just what a world where animals can communicate would be like.
There’s one three double-splash page section in particular that’s just stunning. It’s the same animals on each splash page, all in the middle of scenes you’d expect them to be part of. A cat sleeps between its owners, a dog lies on a vet table about to be put to sleep, two sloths hang out doing sloth stuff, a polar bear attacks a seal.
Then, instantly, worldwide, every animal gains intelligence and it seems an intelligence boost.
The cat informs one of its owners that if he hits his wife again it will cut his eyes out.
The sloths realize what’s happened. Albeit at sloth speed.
The polar bear recoils in horror at what it’s done.
And the one that gets me. The dog tells its owner that it’s okay and it forgives them.
Bennett’s script is peppered with these single panel emotional detonations. The moment Sandor, the hero dog, tells Jesse his owner that he loves her is one. The moment he and Mittens, the cat, coordinate evacuating their humans is another. Time and again, the script contrasts the murderous rage most animals feel with moments of absolute dedication and compassion. This is the most chaotic singularity you could possibly imagine and Bennett shows us it all. Red in literal and metaphorical tooth and claw, shot through with rage and the murderous feral joy of being able to extract revenge.
Oh, and moments of comedy so perfectly timed they’re pressure valves as much as punchlines. The pandas’ reaction to their newfound speech is perfect jet black comedy but it’s just the first. The animals aren’t just talking, they’re talking like humans and you’ve not seen relationship comedies until you’ve seen a killer whale express its love for a human or the way an NYPD horse resigns from dity. There’s an anarchic glee to the book, a barely contained joy at being able to get away with this stuff that’s the perfect counterpoint to the moments of poignancy.
All of which is brilliantly communicated by Rafael De Latorre’s art. He gives the emotional moments room to breathe when needed and weaves them into the background when not. De Latorre’s style is grounded enough to make the premise work but expressive enough to give the animals weight and character. The tiger Sandor faces late in the issue is a coiled bunch of menace while Sandor himself has a solid presence that emphasizes his fundamental decency.
That versatility of style is helped immensely by Rob Schwager’s colours. The contrast between the bright, sunny New York day and the horrible things happening is one of the book’s strongest points and Schwager’s colours nail the book’s twin needs to be vivid and realistic. Finally, Marshall Dillon’s lettering is extraordinarily good, giving each animal a voice that you can hear just as clearly as the humans. His work is especially great on that triple double-splash page, the axis the issue revolves around.
Every single element of this book works perfectly. The script is multi-layered, sprints along but never loses sight of its characters, the art is top notch throughout and the premise is deep enough that even here there are subtle hints about whether or not the animals still defending humans are doing so out of love or conditioning or both. Even better, the book looks set to question not only that distinction, but whether it matters in this new world. You won’t read a better opening issue this year. And you certainly won’t read one that will make you want to hug your dog more.