Will Marguerite Bennett ever run out of strange, fascinating ideas for Animosity? The answer, it seems, is not until the animal kingdom runs out of wonders.
Even with a second series on the way, the world of Animosity continues to stretch at the seams, as new ways of living and coping and moralizing continue to emerge in the aftermath of The Wake.
Animosity #9 is largely a transitionary issue, serving to connect the upcoming story arc to issue #8’s theological musings. On the face of it, the incoming plotline probably didn’t need quite this much lead-in. Much of the issue could have been trimmed and we easily could have entered this story at a later point. However, whether you call it a welcome bug or a defining feature, a big part of Animosity #9’s appeal is the ability to just sit and be with the cast.
On a comic page, time and space are effectively the same thing. So it’s an especially good piece of writing advice, even more so in monthly serialized comics, that anything that takes up time should be essential to the completed story. Of course we’ve been teaching that in writing courses for so long that many projects are just clusters of exposition strung together.
But this issue really allows readers to sit with the characters. There’s time to consider what the discussions of last issue meant to them, and naturally develop plots that have brewed in the background for months, as well as space to consider the emotional elements of their reactions as well as their actions. And while that might seem very decompressed, Marguerite Bennett makes every conversation feel like it very well could be crucial to a character’s development. And the degree to which what is essential is encouraged to grow without having to point to an immediate pay off helps us feel like we’re actually on this adventure with Jesse and her companions.
Admittedly, much of this is possible because Bennett and her editors at Aftershock were willing to section this off into its own issue. For all the benefits that this provides, it does feel like there wasn’t quite enough content to justify a full issue. Lovely but unnecessary spreads are scattered throughout the book and the flip side to that breathing room mentioned above is a lack of the Darwinian innovation that comes with having to kill your darlings.
Though the first five pages of the issue are bursting with ideas, the remaining three fourths of the issue lean heavily upon a few concepts. This admittedly encourages some fantastic moments as a reader when the weight of a panel or exchange hits you a moment later, but there are stretches where the story simply could have been told more effectively or where things are just sparse. When all is said and done, it feels like a huge portion of the issue sped by. The relatively light plot progression and density of the issue are answered only by the appeal of its new characters.
Animosity #9 throws Jesse and co. in between two conflicting societies, both fascinating. The more interesting of these, by far, is the Stony River Hive.
Animosity has a serious problem with representation; every member of the recurring cast are mammals! Admittedly we’ve seen birds get in on the action and occasional reptiles have broken through the endothermic barrier, but huge swaths of the animal kingdom have been largely ignored. It is perhaps understandable, as humans make up the vast majority of the series’ readership, that Animosity has largely focused on familiar and iconic species awakening, but, given that there are more types of mollusks than there are types of vertebrates on Earth, its about time that we considered the single largest class of animals: the insects.
The strict social behavior and alien biology of insects make them a natural draw for the anthropomorphizing devices of the post-Wake, and Bennett clearly has a score of wonderful ideas to play with. From the obvious implications of hive hierarchy to the quiet acknowledgement of a stinging bees’ sacrifice to the hive’s visually stunning answer to their troubles communicating there is an instant cool factor at play in all their scenes.
Despite all these wonderful ideas in play, perhaps the most impressive is the issue’s only double page spread. Visually arresting in a way that easily could have fallen flat, the sight of the Stony River Hive is not only impressive but kind of brilliant. What would bees do if gifted sentience? What would restrain a queen’s kingdom? It isn’t as necessarily apparent as some of the other concepts being toyed with here, but the scope of the hive’s ambition, staggering without growing too big to appreciate, is a real reminder of what humans have done with our dominance of the planet and how unsettling the simple thought of competition for that dominance can be.
If there’s one other flaw with the writing in this issue that I ought to mention, its how apparent the hand of the author can be. I acknowledge that I’ve actually singled out the subtlety of this script several times throughout this review, but, while many of the best ideas of this issue do allow readers the freedom and guidance to come upon them themselves, Animosity #9 is oddly open with its attempts to convey what readers should think of its characters.
Issue #9 lays out the conflict between its two new civilizations in very clear and morally unambiguous terms, only to introduce new information that points strongly and exclusively the other way. It’s a simple technique, but it doesn’t give the sense of discovering new information so much as it plainly attempts to direct the reader’s sympathy. In an issue full of such measured writing, it feels rather out of place and under par.
Rafael de Latorre has never made his mark on Animosity by the stylistic force of his artwork alone but by virtue of his range and communicative power. De Latorre’s ability to not only render the sheer number and variety of animals the script calls for but to realize them as characters is truly a rare gift and this series flatly would not work without it.
This issue may be de Latorre’s clearest and cleanest yet. Though at times things can get a bit sparse, the intentionality of the lines and the intersection of inks and colors make this a particularly attractive issue of Animosity, with Jesse seeing particular benefits.
It’s also impossible to talk about this issue without acknowledging that any of Bennett’s ideas for the bees could not have carried such power without de Lattore’s sense of scope and detail. From hive to swarm, the discovery of the bees’ civilization is one of the issue’s highlights and one of the series’ most impressive visuals.
Animosity #9 struggles for its place between two stories. One suspects that issues eight through ten probably could have been trimmed down into two chapters, but Bennett and/or editor Mike Marts were unwilling to pull that trigger. This leads to highly decompressed scenes, somewhat vacant pages, and an overabundance of splash pages, however it also allows some fantastic threads and visuals to have their time in the sun.
Buoyed by strong character development and an attention grabbing hook, Animosity #9 once again establishes this as the thinking reader’s action series, bringing emotion, cleverness, and a wonder for the world that is hard to ignore. Though this installment will likely function better as a chapter of a trade than it has as a single issue, Animosity’s unique blend of not taking itself too seriously and delivering consistent, emotionally resonant content makes this issue a pleasure to read.
Animosity #9 is currently available in shops from Aftershock Comics.