As we’ve learned before, creator owned works can be boom or bust. “Five Weapons” gave us a pretty good example of bust a few weeks ago, but Michael A. Oeming’s new Dark Horse project “Wild Rover” seems to be on the opposite end of the scale.
While “Five Weapons” was brought down by self-indulgence, lack of good ideas and apparently no one to tell the creator he needed to give the script another once-over, “Wild Rover” presents a tight, atmospheric and extremely well-executed comic which, if enough people actually buy and endorse the damn thing, could very well lead the way for an excellent ongoing or miniseries.
The “hero” is Shane Blight, and it’s “hero” with huge monolithic air-quotes because he’s less of a hero and more of a fall-down drunk living in a grimy hovel drowning in his own misery and shame. Personifying (or is he?) his own alcoholism as a Lovecraftian terror living in his stomach he inherited from his mother, Shane spends most of the book resisting and then spectacularly failing to resist going on another bender, all the while waxing poetic in a hard boiled narration that’s equal parts Raymond Chandler and William Peter Blatty.
While it would have been interesting to have the entire book just be a played-straight treatise on depression and alcoholism, things get a little “out there” when the ghost of Shane’s dead witch mother shows up and tells him he needs to vanquish the shoggoth living in his digestive track by going to various countries, getting drunk on the local booze of favour and then vanquishing the demonic embodiment of said booze like this is a Legend of Zelda game written by Ernest Hemingway or something.
And before you ask, it’s kept quite deliberately in the dark whether or not Shane is actually fighting alcohol demons or this is all just metaphorical, or for that matter if he’s really just killing random people. He does seem to have to wear surgical gloves whenever he does battle with some betentacled horror, after all. But anyway, the ambiguity is a large part of what makes this really work. Kind of like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the narrator is quite deliberately as reliable as an insane circus clown, so eventually you just give up trying to figure out what’s really going on and just strap in for the ride.
The artwork (also by Oeming) is about what we’ve come to expect from a Dark Horse book: extremely dark and noir-ish and gritty as a sandwich made of gravel and roofing tiles. But in a good way, of course. Buildings twist and tower into impressionistic hulks, smoke trails go on for miles and nobody, but nobody seems to be having anything other than an utterly miserable day. The broody art and broodier narration come together to create an atmosphere thicker than a barrel of tar dumped over the reader’s head but without the messy cleanup and ruined carpets.
We also get a backup story, “The Sacrifice” with art this time by Victor Santos, which is really just OK. A quick little twist-ending tale inspired partly by Norse myth. The art is good, largely trading in Oeming’s heavy shadows for a much brighter pallet, but the story really isn’t anything other than a quick little bonus to the main story.
Overall, “Wild Rover” is a terrific comic, and hopefully will garner enough attention to be turned into something beyond this one-shot.