A Review of Bearmageddon: Book One
By Christopher Ouellette
There are a lot of ultra-violent comic books, but they are not Bearmageddon.
Bearmageddon is the first ‘book’ of a graphic novel, currently presented as a web comic.
Ethan Nicolle, best known for creating Ax Cop with his then 5-year-old brother, has now put his art skills in line with his storytelling and they are a tour de force of paneled action. A group of early twentysomething, well-meaning slackers give up on society to live in the woods. This would be all well and good if it had not coincided with the bears of the woods joining forces to wipe out mankind. On top of that, they are mutating with other animals. The corpse of an octopus/bear is found. We soon run into a bear with the skin flaps and gliding talents of a flying squirrel. I feel like I’m seeing all of Daniel Peterson’s theories about the Eco Monstrous being dramatically illustrated in the context of a fast paced, well developed story.
What Nicolle achieves here is astonishing. The humans are a bit cartoony in their development and in their look, but the development is solid. The characters have realistic back stories and motivations that drive them as much as the threat of the oncoming killer bears. Our central hero is Joel. He seems to recognize that his life is not going anywhere, but he sees things worth being. He just can’t move from ‘Wow Mart’ grunt worker to a life of significance. He and his sidekick, Gogs, end up joining forces with Nigel, preaching the sickness of society and the communion of all that is good in the woods (having seen the first half of “Into the Wild”). Joining them is their buddy, Burton, who has smoked enough pot to calmly go along with the plan.
The bears are lovingly foreshadowed though out the opening. As the emotional stakes are being raised for our hero, the danger promised in the title is seeping in at the edges of the frames. A fantastic juxtaposition is given to us as Joel and Gogs are told to clean up the mess outside of ‘Wow Mart.’ While discussing how pointless the task is and how unfortunate they are, they don’t see around the corner. The foreground reveals to the reader the flipped security car with the dead man’s intestines trailing from the tires to his body. This style of storytelling lets the reader feel the closing in of the threat long before the short-sighted boys are aware of it. In fact, they are deciding to go to the forest as they unknowingly walk away from a bear attack.
The adventure slams into focus for the characters as well when Nigel talks them into eco-terrorism-lite, as they chain themselves to trees scheduled for a harvest. In an act of defiance, Nigel ‘Sticks it to the Man’ by swallowing the lock’s key. As foreshadowed, the bear attack on a group of wannnabe naturalist hippies chained to trees is devastating. The story also introduces two female protagonists who round out the escaping group, along with their new leader/mentor/savior, Dickinson Killdeer. A sort of wilderness Batman who dresses like Super Davy Crockett and wields self-made axes and wooden spears.
Here is the amazing thing: with the story in full gear very early, it never lets up. Still, Nicolle manages to also stick with the character and plot development. A concept that could just turn into a zoological version of torture porn in a medium known for style over substance, is handled with a deft hand that is just being adrenalized by violence. I care about these people. As the story goes on, I’m not wondering what will happen next. I’m hoping that the group is going to be okay. Despite the fact that they are thrust into a world where mutant bears are attacking at any moment, the characters have decisions to make, and those decisions are realistically coming out of their character. They can’t get out of the story they are drawn into, but they are still the pilots of their destinies. The effect is engrossing. I found myself getting misty at the death of characters (Nicolle pulls no punches) and by the end, my heart was beating hard enough for me to take notice.
This is a graphic novel, so I must talk more about the art. I had to go back to appreciate it after I was done reading, because, while in the midst of the story, I could not turn the page (click) fast enough. “Is Gogs gonna make it!?” This is not to say that the art is secondary or sub-par. The beautifully realized world of these monsters is laid out on the page masterfully enough to just let you slide through. At times, thinking about it, I feel like I can remember the characters actually moving. The synergy of story, art, and layout, are all top notch and are all brought together as a cohesive unit to serve the reading experience.
Now, this is “Book One” of a graphic novel that does not yet exist. The ending could not be a more literal cliffhanger if they had actually had our crew hanging on the side of a mountain, wondering if their fingers would hold out. Still, somehow, what I read was a satisfying story. I, of course, am musing about the fact that I can stop by my comic shop and drop $3.99 on a 15min read that may just be ‘so-so’ while this is sitting on my computer for free. With that, should I find the full graphic novel, there are not enough Fry memes (from Futurama) to express my excitement.
Upon finishing Bearmagedon, I contacted Ethan Nicolle, and he has agreed to come on the Beware of Monsters podcast!
Rating: Five out of five viking zombie heads.
Christopher Ouellette, host of the Beware of Monsters podcast, is a reservoir of classic monster knowledge and the creatures featured in Jeremy Robinson novels. He has worked as a puppeteer and is the director for Chesterton Stage Productions.