I don’t know of a single boy growing up who didn’t have at least one of those variety packs of plastic animals that were available at every zoo, Wal-Mart, or truck stop. You know the ones I mean, the ones with the poorly colored plastic halves joined right down the middle. The wussy giraffes and zebras were quickly discarded behind couches or left outside never to be thought of again. But the kick ass lions and rhinos, THOSE we could have fun with. For hours on end I know I at least would pit them against each other in death match-style fights to the death until only one survived. And while reading a new graphic novel from Soft Skull Press called “Nature of the Beast” by Adam Mansbach, Douglas McGowan and Owen Brozman I have to believe that I wasn’t the only one.
As most readers of my reviews know by now I made a New Year’s Resolution to read more independent and small press books, partly to round myself out as a comics reader but mainly because I am tired of the endless series of meaningless crossovers that the big two seem to believe is their savior from falling sales. The majority of what I’ve read deserves to be small press since I can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend money for it but then I run across a title like “Nature of the Beast” and my 13 year old inner child stands up and gets all giddy.
You’re probably asking yourself what does any of that have to do with the book I’m reviewing. Well, a race of religious alien zealots is coming to Earth not only to destroy it, but to turn it into a waste land as a kind of offering to their god. The only hope we have is to issue The Challenge of the Heretic; which is kind of like Mortal Kombat between the heroes of two worlds for the right to exist. In order to find a champion for Earth media baron Milan Marlowe launches and televises Beast Wars on his own private island. And while the viewing public goes crazy watching sharks vs polar bears and gorillas vs alligators no one but Marlowe knows the real reason for his tournament is to find Earth’s champion.
Adam Mansbach has scripted the best 80’s B-movie story I could imagine and I mean that as a sincere compliment. In a single story we have killer animal death matches, aliens ready to destroy our world, and guys with names like Bruno Bolo. It’s every school boy fantasy I ever had wrapped up in one glorious package………except with more blood.
If there is a downside to the book, and there always is, it’s that Mansbach is so eager to get to the next great battle that he neglects to really savor the quieter, more human moments that really make a story. We know that Bolo is 12 different kinds of awesome and he really loves his trailer trash daughter but the reader is given no reason why he cares so much. Fighting to save the entire world is too great an idea for a person to handle, but fighting to save one person you really care for? Now THAT’S something worth fighting for and that is what is missing from the story. I wish Mansbach had slowed down and added a few more pages showing more interaction between Bolo and his daughter.
Is this worth picking up? If, like me, while you are picking up your son’s toys after putting him to sleep, you find yourself smashing his action figures together while making crashing sounds I’d say yes, there is a lot to like here and it is worth your money and there are worse things a book can do other than let you become a 10 year old again.