A striking cover from the tremendous Ben Templesmith has garnered Liberator #3 all kinds of attention. If you’ve not been reading this fantastic debut, read on…
Black Mask Studios is doing very interesting things. Ballistic, Occupy Comics, and this, a mix of vigilante action, political intrigue, and heartwarming puppies. From newcomers Matt Miner and Javier Sanchez Aranda comes this non-fantastical tale of those who work as animal rights activists – the direct action camp, busting out animals and burning down buildings.
It’s a contentious issue to be sure, and one that I personally was deeply intrigued by – being a soft-hearted vegan punk myself. The art is rough and ready, pulsing with energy and some really neat colouring effects. The story is fast paced and nicely subtle – what appears on the surface as a straight forward hero tale, sees strands carefully pulled loose and left for our protagonist to trip over.
Lets re-cap. The first issue of Liberator was about introducing us to the cast, and to the general concept of the series.
We met Damon Guerrero, vigilante animal rights activist, a straight up hero rescuing furry friends from dog fighting rings, and torching the buildings used to house such activities. Leaving his saved pups to a rescue centre, he trots into work at a cafe, harassed by asshole colleague Randy before meeting friend Jeanette, a fellow animal rights protestor who Damon describes as a “martyr”, spending time as the public face of the movement rather than directly helping animals.
Still, as he picks Jeanette up from the station after being held for fighting back against cops that were harassing the protestors, it’s clear the two are good buddies. But soon after, Damon flips his lid at the sight of a grown man kneeling down to talk to a kid, screaming in to the rescue before belatedly realising that the adult is harmless uncle to the child.
It’s clear that Damon has issues, but as he launches into another dog rescue, defending himself against thugs while telling us, “my ethics keep me from wantonly hurting people to save animals”, it’s easy to forget the previous blip. But make no mistake, Damon has just outed himself as a very unreliable narrator.
We know that saving animals is a Good Thing, and most of us of course know that animal testing and animal cruelty is incredibly inhumane and completely unnecessary, but are Damon and Jeanette truly two sides of the same coin? Or is there something else driving Damon beyond simply helping animals?
It’s a theme that was planted early, but comes right to the foreground in #3, out today.
The second issue of Liberator saw tensions between Damon and Randy the asshole increase (while taking an out of context pot-shot at Bully Ink), and we learn that the media are regarding Damon’s previous (anonymous) actions as domestic terrorism.
This issue is intriguing, as it’s something many who support animal welfare or animal rights have come up against, that taking direct action, sometimes the only way to save a group of animals – whether they be mice or dogs – while damaging only property and not people, is seen as equal to real terrorism. Humanising the people who undertake these actions, knowing what the prison terms could be, is perhaps part of what Liberator is trying to do.
#2 also saw Damon launch his attack on a large fur farm, by doing some preliminary surveillance scouting, where he comes across a now similarly costumed Jeanette. It seems that Damon has been seriously underestimating how committed Jeanette is to her beliefs, and her joking suggestion that they have a “superhero team-up” is a nice nod to the medium of this tale. We also hear about how politics in the US interplay with how these huge fur farms are able to survive despite negative public opinion.
As the pair later discuss tackling a nearby lab, Jeanette finds a strange photo on Damon’s floor – a man sitting on a bench, which a child playing on a climbing frame behind him. “It’s nothing, it’s something else I’m working on,” says Damon, snatching the photograph away. “Forget about it.”
Damon also receives a letter at work, from an anonymous source promising resources to his cause if he joins their mystery organisation. As the new dynamic duo save a bunch of cuddly bunny rabbits from a university lab (a fantastic action sequence), they make their escape only to be confronted by blazing sirens and police on the cliffhanger of a final page.
Issue #3 begins not only with those adorable bunnies (squee!) but with a very plausible stroke of luck that sees Damon and Jeanette walking free. Jeanette has the right idea, wanting to escape with the rabbits while they can, but Damon chooses to throw a rock through the nearest window, breaking out a supervillain-esque “HA HA HAHAHA!” as he does so.
Remember, this guy is our hero. But also, our increasingly unreliable narrator. Mad with power, he puts his own indulgence for violence and power above the wellbeing of the animals that he is there, purportedly, to save.
The next day, as Damon tries to text an apology to Jeanette, we see that we’ve definitely mixed up who is the hero of this story. Jeanette is horrified that he’s being so stupid as to text such sensitive information, jeopardising not only themselves, but again, the animals she saves.
Looking back through the issues, we repeatedly see Damon thinking less of Jeanette for not doing the important work that he does – but it turns out she’s just been a lot more discrete, while also working on the public face of the movement – that same public face that gets laws changed – and getting shit done. She helps her fellow protestors avoid trouble with asshole cops, and generally has her head screwed on right. She’s a superhero!
We see Damon hit another place, slashing tires, raking through garbage, destroying property and so forth. It’s no different from what we’ve seen before countless times, but this time it seems darker, more dangerous and potentially twisted.
As Jeanette discovers something that could blow Damon’s world apart, he himself is hitting yet another building, this time with flames dancing in his eyes. His narrative is as powerful as ever, but now I wonder, is this justice? Or is this madness?
I’m interested to see where this story goes. I’m really impressed with how the character of Jeanette has been handled, ie like a person rather than a stereotypical comic book woman. And no dumb romance plot! Aces.
I enjoy stories with unreliable narrators as you’re never quite sure what is about to unravel next, and it gives earlier sequences a whole new dimension. It works well with this tightly plotted book, with connecting scenes rather than your typically linear storytelling, and the dual narrative introduced in #3 is very intriguing.
Honestly, I think Liberator addresses some very important issues, throwing them out into the spotlight for examination, and telling us to question everything – our protagonist included.
Writer: Matt Miner
Artist: Javier Sanchez Aranda
Colourist: Joaquin Pereyra
Cover Artist: Ben Templesmith
Letters: Vito Delsante
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
On Sale: September 11, 2013
Diamond ID: JUN130875
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.