A bizarre virus has spread throughout the southeastern United States in Cannibal #1. However a small town has thus far remained untouched by the epidemic. Until now. Is it good?
Cannibal #1 (Image Comics)
Based on an original concept by Jennifer Young, Cannibal #1 utilizes the isolation of small-town life to help set the stage for a survival-horror story. And immediately readers may make note of the similarities to Cannibal‘s aesthetic to The Walking Dead. But while both may take place in the South and feature a “zombie” outbreak, Cannibal #1 throws a major wrinkle into the premise that differentiates itself from the competition.
The titular cannibals are reluctant and remorseful. Like an addict, the virus here gives the infected a compulsion to eat other humans. They can’t help it, to the point that they apologize as they attack their prey. This change makes the events that start off Cannibal #1 even more disturbing as a young bar employee, Jimmy, has to fight off an attacker that doesn’t want to hurt him, but can’t help it.
Jennifer Young (credited as J. Young) and Brian Buccellato quickly establish a solid cast of characters. The small-town dynamic means that every character knows one another, and the dialogue between the characters helps inform readers of the relationships between them. Emerging from the cast is Cash, a bartender looking to lay low while also preparing to take the next step in his love life. Cash is simultaneously distant, yet concerned about others, and that makes him an engaging protagonist to follow.
Unfortunately, Candy (real name Jolene) doesn’t fare quite as well. Readers are introduced to her as she leaves her work at a strip club. From there she and Cash meet up for some, well, kinky sex. While the sequence does give readers a little insight into her personality, it’s all there is to her. The bondage/abduction aspect to the sex provides an interesting thematic connection to the cannibals being forced against their will to eat people, but its disappointing that the only named female character in the book is being defined exclusively by her sexuality. If she had appeared earlier, the added dimension would have made her encounter with Cash more impactful.
From the opening panel, Matias Bergara’s art drips with flavor. Each of the characters, from the main players to the background is given a distinct design that makes them feel more human. The rougher, uglier characters native to Willow contrast nicely with the more handsome features of the infected man that has entered the town. It’s a subtle detail that helps highlight the danger of this viral threat.
Bergara’s layouts draw the reader through the story and the use of insert panels and negative space give the scenes a great sense of pacing. There are some great framing decisions as well. As the cannibal attacks and pins Jimmy, Bergara uses an angle from Jimmy’s point of view, with the cannibal’s arms stretching out beyond the frame of the page, visually suggesting that the reader is also being pinned. It’s a moment that helps sell the horror of the scene.
Is It Good?
Cannibal #1 is a good debut that makes its mark with a creative twist on the “zombie” premise. Matias Bergara’s art is atmospheric and has a nice rhythm to the pacing, keeping the story moving at a nice pace. And by focusing on the characters, Jennifer Young and Brian Buccellato have crafted a story that should be able to overcome the superficial similarities to The Walking Dead.
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