L’Chaim: To Life, Not Death – Animosity #23 Reviewed
by Noah Sharma
If the Walled City felt like a climax, Animosity #23 is here to assure you it was. After three years of story, there’s a real sense that Jesse and Sandor have taken at least one more huge step towards California. That’s not to say that they’re out of the woods. Though the route is rather different, anyone who’s played Oregon Trail ought to know that reaching the west coast starting east of Texas is no joke. Still, between stopping in a real township and the looming truth that this is a perfect place for anyone who wants to head somewhere else to go their own way, it’s the beginning of a new leg of the journey.
Strangely enough, we don’t dive into that new, post-Walled City, chapter any more than the last arc did. Instead this is something of a side adventure that takes advantage of the calm before the storm and the presence of reasonable barter to say something lovely and intimate.
Animosity is a strange book structurally. It really doesn’t spend any more time on it’s big dramatic confrontations than it must. In a world where all life in Kingdom animalia is at eachother’s throat, perhaps the climactic battle isn’t unique anymore. Instead you’ll find this book always looking at meaning. How do you make a friend out of this or, when that’s frequently impossible, how do you survive what’s been done to you? That mindset is very much present as Marguerite Bennett and her characters all try to say something about growing up and figuring out who you are this month.
Animosity #23 starts on a strong foot, having established that sense of gravitas from the get go. This series has always adored the strange, funny ideas that can populate the edges of its premise and it only takes them as seriously as is useful. Some readers may not take to the brief gags and nuggets of world building that make up much of the issue’s first few pages, but, regardless of any other value, I think that Animosity benefits from the humorous and human (for lack of more appropriate word) glimpses into the lives of animals. I admit that there’s not a lot of content that has long term implications for the series here — almost all of it builds to a fairly immediate seeming threat or is fully in service of this single issue — but the core idea of Animosity is ‘what if everyone mattered?’ The villains are people who insist that that can’t be and our heroine is someone who fights to believe it and act in a way that honors that idea. It’s a series that’s not afraid to be very dark, but these moments add more than levity, reminding us that every spider and mouse we see has a life and fears of their own that are every bit as valid as Sandor and Jesse’s in this world.
The stop in at Mississippi Outpost #115 is charming enough, but, overall, it fails to stand out. Sandor and Zarza have a rather touching moment and we get a very clear look at concepts of identity that have already been explored in prior issues, but it feels even more transitional than it is because it’s largely just reestablishing the good and the bad in Jesse’s world.
No, instead, the main attraction of this issue is Potter’s birthday card. Taking up just about half of the issue, this honestly feels kind of like a short you might find in an annual issue, which might not be a bad way to think about how this issue presents itself. I won’t lie and say that Potter has the most interesting origin of the animals we’ve met or that his tale is full of twists and turns that radically redefine the series or completely subvert expectations, but Bennett’s storytelling — that is her literal storytelling, though her craft is impressive too — has always been top notch.
The tale he tells is simple but affecting for its engaging sense of character and the mundane evil that it recalls. Combined with Bennett’s word choice and pacing and something that could have been somewhat ho-hum, becomes a meaningful lesson as Jesse approaches the end of childhood.
Animosity is a tough gig for an artist. At any moment you could be called upon to draw any of over a million different known species and even grappling with the hundred or so most likely suspects is an incredible challenge compared to just drawing human characters.
This month the art is credited to Elton Thomasi with Rafael de Latorre, rather than to de Latorre himself. That’s another thing that’s rather impressive about the art of this issue: you wouldn’t necessarily know that another artist drew it. It’s unclear how the roles broke down to earn that shared credit, whether one built upon the foundation laid by the other or if certain pages were split between them, but Thomasi does a fine job of recreating the standard look of this series.
The range of creatures are admirably represented, from lemurs to goats to alligators they all feel recognizable and alive. Even better, the composition is strong, ensuring that this issue’s many small panels and expository moments deliver a full story rather than a “yadda yadda yadda”.
However the flaws begin to appear if you linger. There are characters that are rendered in a more awkward and simplistic fashion than usual. Jesse is a particular problem, especially during her discussion of The Little Prince. Eyes in general have an incongruous, anime feel about them and, even though it doesn’t distract as much, some of the animals are much more elastic than the rest of the characters.
Still, what’s most important to this issue is your feeling of care and immersion, the buy-in is essential and, even when faces are kind of geometric or styles inconsistent, you get that out of this issue. The moments that count work where it counts. Strong as Bennett’s voice is, we perceive this comic through the artist’s lines and the strength of that final recounting could not exist without the strong staging and general understanding of weight and momentum that we find in the art.
This is something of a palate cleansing issue. As we begin to try to put the Walled City and its traumas behind us, Animosity #23 reminds us why we’re afraid of this strange, unlikely family breaking up and gives us a short, sweet parable from Potter. It’s certainly not the equal of Kyle’s origin in issue #15, but what is? This is an easy enough issue for new readers to jump in with, but it lacks a hook to ensure that those who aren’t already committed to the next issue will come back. It’s a very quiet and ‘unimportant’ issue, at least if we’re using the increasingly obnoxious comics industry definition of important. But, while I acknowledge that the lack of plot progression and off kilter vibe that the story aims for might put off some, there’s a quality about this series that makes tales like this feel real and significant. It’s an issue with abundant heart and that pulls it through when its art dips or its story feels low stakes. You could probably skip this issue and jump back in next month, but I think readers who enjoy Animosity‘s homey, off-kilter mix of optimism and nihilism will find this one a touching read.
Animosity #23 is currently available in comic shops from Aftershock Comics.