A highly charged debut is hot off the presses at Black Mask Studios this Wednesday, with animal rights activists stepping up to the vigilante plate and following in the footsteps of Buddy Baker, grassroots style.
I’ve written about Liberator, from Matt Miner and Javier Sanchez, before in our exclusive sneak peak back in April where I pinged it as my debut of the year. Funded by Kickstarter and lavished with praise from the likes of Scott Snyder, Steve Niles, Chris Burnham and Jimmy Palmiotti, Liberator promised “a unique and beautifully illustrated comic book series starring brave heroes risking it all to protect animals” with Miner going so far as to donate his portion of post-Kickstarter profits to the animal rescue work that he devotes much of his time to.
It’s refreshing to see a creator put their money where their mouth is when it comes to their own moral beliefs, but the question most comics fans will be asking is, how does the comic hold up?
I’m delighted to say that it more than holds up, blasting us into what looks set to be a smashing 4 issue mini-series. As a soft hearted animal lover myself this was always going to be a book that I picked up – a story of real people that turn to vigilantism to try and help the horrifyingly large number of animals that are used and abused within our society.
It’s a theme that will be familiar to any who have read Morrison’s early Animal Man run or the later We3, but Liberator keeps things firmly in the real world rather than straying into fantasy or science-fiction, and it doesn’t pull any punches when doing so. The missions that our characters go on here aren’t so much a product of the imagination as they are totems of those out there in the world doing the same thing right now, which also means that the treatment of animals on the page are very much representative of the real world too.
As such it has been supported not only by those within the comics industry, but also figures in the overlapping worlds of music and activism, from Bad Religion to SHAC, and every counterculture in between. Having said that, comics fans will be delighted to see covers on #1 by Tim Seeley and Yildiray Cinar, with upcoming turns from Ben Templesmith and Chris Burnham.
We open with our lead character, Damon, doing what he does best: breaking and entering, rescuing mistreated dogs, and scorching the place from the face of the planet. All is interlaced with his own furious narration and scenes of what has been happening to merit such rage. The art is rough with a grungy feel and vibrant colours in the present, subdued tones in the flashbacks. The pacing is spot on, and may surprise those who would assume less from a new writer.
With coaching from none other than Scott Snyder though, Miner is clearly in his element with the character and story, and readers are very quickly sucked into the life of this vigilante; a punk-ass barista by day, animal saviour by night. At work in a cafe, Damon is constantly harassed by his work-mate Randy who appears to be quite the dick.
Close friend Jeanette is our other lead, an activist who believes in protesting and press-riling to try and change the world. Miner has been keen to stress that he is determined to get the portrayal of his female lead spot on, and indeed her vigilante uniform which appears on the cover of #1 and in the pages of following issues is near identical to Damon’s. In contrast to Jeanette (at first) Damon is a jaded activist, sick of all talk and no action, and is actively saving lives and damaging property – keen to stress that no humans (or animals) are in any danger from him at any point.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of journey Damon is set for as the moral maze around direct action is complex to say the least. But comics can bring our fantasies to life, regardless of whether or not a character possesses superpowers, and there can’t be many of us that haven’t wished we could do something about that which brings us sleepless nights.
It’s fascinating to be cheering on a vigilante who operates almost Batman or Punisher style and quite probably breaks more laws, all with less violence and a more fairytale ending for the damsels (animals) being saved. The danger he is putting himself in is palpable, with him having to cover for his lack of social life and avoiding the police faces at demonstrations.
Reading this comic is very much a call to action, whether that be donating money to your nearest rescue or lending your copy of Liberator to another. It has an infectious energy, a bold purpose, and will speak to many.
There will be those who were expecting different things from an animal rights focused comic as those in the AR community are a hugely diverse bunch. Nevertheless, I think Liberator strikes for the core of the movement and will resonate with a far wider audience than anything more explicit or shocking. This ain’t PETA, it’s far too considered and powerful for that.
If you’re an animal lover then you’ve already been won over – almost anyone can get behind the idea of a hero who saves defenceless dogs after all. But for comics fans too, I’d say this is pretty unmissable. And as a debut from a writer who may well go on to even bigger things… well, I’ll be hanging on to my copy is all.
For anyone who laments the loss of politically relevant comics that challenge the status quo and give a hearty fuck you to the system that mistreats so many, Liberator is the comic for you. And if you like cute fuzzy dogs, and punked up vigilantes, so much the better!
Writer: Matt Miner
Artist: Javier Sanchez Aranda
Colourist: Joaquin Pereyra
Cover Artist: Tim Seeley, Rod Reis, Yildiray Cinar
Letters: Vito Delsante
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
On Sale: June 19, 2013
Diamond ID: APR130919
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.