“Bug Brothers: Chapter Two”
Writer: Simon Oliver
Artist: Tony Moore
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
The Exterminators is literature of the Apocalypse delivered through black humor and social class commentary. What makes it such an enjoyable and impressive title for me is Simon Oliver’s careful juggling of several intertwining themes and plot threads. The very beginning of the first issue of The Exterminators narrates the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire: black rats that carried black fleas that carried “Black Death” bacteria. In the 2nd century A.D. the Plague decimated the Roman Empire’s population. The opening pages of the series then introduce the theme of extinction through inter-species warfare. Not only does the second issue advance that theme, it focuses on human depravity, presents some more information about all the characters and introduces a mysterious box. Like I wrote, Oliver performs a great juggling act.
The title’s protagonist, Henry James (yeah, I’m still trying to figure out the connection between the character and the author) is a new employee of Bug-Bee-Gone Exterminating, a company owned by his stepfather. Henry, at first, seems like an “everyman” archetype, but by the end of the second issue, it’s clear that Henry is a unique character all his own. He’s an ex-con (whose criminal offense hasn’t yet been revealed) attempting to turn the page on his past while simultaneously unsure of how to chart his future. Perhaps his future involves acquiring Bug-Bee-Gone from his stepfather, who seems eager to hand over ownership to him. Perhaps his future includes his voluptuous long-time girlfriend, Laura, who Henry seems to be both devoted to and distancing himself from.
Meanwhile, the title’s most intriguing supporting character, Saloth, a Cambodian entomologist working for Bug-Bee-Gone, learns more about the latest cockroach pesticide offered on the market. He surmises it was initially formulated to affect not insects, but a completely different biological genus.
And then there’s that box that Henry finds at the end of the issue…
The Exterminators has many narrative and visual strengths. For one, there’s great banter between characters. Much of the humor of this book gets produced by the characters’ statements and responses to each other, particularly between Henry and his exterminating partner, AJ. In fact, just about everything that comes out of AJ’s mouth is pretty damn hysterical (in a laughing at the character, not with the character kind of way).
Artist Tony Moore continues his excellent work here that makes Image Comics’ Fear Agent such a fun book to read. Appropriately for this title, his style straddles the line between cartoonish and naturalistic. The style is cartoonish enough to deliver the humor yet naturalistic enough to give some gravity to pivotal moments. Moore’s aesthetic aids the story’s often abrupt transitions from ludicrous to horrific, and trust me on this: the gore slaps you in the face without warning. It slaps you so quickly that you don't know whether to laugh nervously or shudder in disgust. The pacing of the sequence and artistic style leave you that ambiguous.
My one complaint this issue about the art is a sequence in a supermarket. In one aisle, Henry passes a young woman and her son who are examining cockroach traps. Henry deliberates if he should give them a Bug-Bee-Gone business card. Of course, her search for the most effective cockroach traps is what makes Henry consider approaching her about Bug-Bee-Gone. Here’s the problem: the artwork does not make clear what product she’s holding. The designs on the boxes aren’t clear enough. Only if you remember this woman’s “bug” problem from the first issue will you be able to surmise what she intends to buy. So it’s a sequence that isn’t visually clear and relies on the reader’s recollection to work.
That’s a very minor complaint though for artwork that otherwise very competently and uniquely presents the story at hand. Some images indeed are remarkably vivid (do NOT skim through this issue without reading it first; you’ll ruin the whole experience).
Although this might not be as “heady” as some other Vertigo titles, The Exterminators nonetheless is a great addition to comicdom’s most distinguished lineup of titles. This series begins with a lot of material that will make it a very successful on-going. Look past the creepy “bug covers” and you’ll find characters with mysterious pasts and uncertain futures, situations threatening to become apocalyptic…
and what’s the deal with that box?
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