2016 has been a strange, vibrant year for DC Comics. When last year’s DC You initiative, which brought unique and offbeat titles such as Prez, Omega Men, and Bat-Mite to the forefront of the line failed to translate into financial success, the company responded with DC Rebirth. This latter movement has largely proven to be a return to DC’s core characters and values, aiming to appeal to their enfranchised core audience rather than the world at large. The work has been good, but it’s also been safe.
Luckily, for readers who look down from the open doors of a plane at 30,000 feet and spit at the notion of a parachute, Umbrella Academy writer and former My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way has created the Young Animal imprint at DC Comics. While all the series launched as part of the imprint are in continuity and are largely inspired by previously existing DC properties, the goal behind these projects is to experiment and reinvent the wheel. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writers: Jon Rivera & Gerard Way
Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Letterer: Clem Robins
Alex Lu: If you were one of the people who found the relentless cheerfulness of Doom Patrol’s Casey Brinke to be more grating than endearing, boy does Young Animal have the “sad dad” comic for you. At first glance, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye doesn’t feel like it fits into the effervescent pocket universe established by Doom Patrol and Shade, the Changing Girl. Where the former two are singularly focused on the youthfulness advertised by the imprint’s name, Cave Carson is much more variable in tone. It’s weird. It’s vibrant and full of possibilities. It’s also distinctively interested in exploring the feelings of angst and loss of purpose that surround aging and death.
As a story, the first issue of Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye pulls no punches. The story opens with a look into Cave’s internal state. We see his wife Eileen, recently deceased, and his former spelunking teammates. The vision starts off normally but quickly distorts. Michael Oeming’s figurework loses focus as bodies twist, contort, and bleed into a spiral that finally pulls outward into the real world where we see Cave looking out at us from his mysterious technologically enhanced eye. It’s a twisted look into a heartbroken man’s headspace that sets the tone for the entire issue in a brief yet powerful way.
Cave Carson is a book defined by the push and pull between the young and the old. Throughout the issue, Oeming constantly depicts Cave from a slightly upwards angle, his eyes mournfully downcast and often in shadow. Writers Gerard Way and Jon Rivera capture the character best as he stares at a portrait of him with his wife, Eileen, whom he has just buried. Oeming pulls out from the portrait into a ¾ view of the reader looking down at Cave, spotlit in his office which is otherwise covered by the black of night. You can almost hear him sigh as he asks “what am I supposed to do now?”
Contrast Cave with his daughter, Chloe. The first scene we properly see her in takes place in her college apartment. She’s in bed with her boyfriend, Daniel, watching old family videos off her laptop. It’s an act of mourning, but it’s never explicitly interpreted by the story or by Chloe herself that way. Daniel asks Chloe if she can still do the karate moves the family video shows her doing and even though she replies “Nah…all of that stuff was staged for the camera,” she doesn’t seem wistful about it. She has a slight small on her face watching her younger self jubilantly earning a merit badge her dad admits to the camera is “meaningless.” Her pages are shaded by Oeming in lighter shades of yellow, blue, and red than her dad’s scenes which are predominantly darker tones of maroon, brown, and outright blacks. There’s a hopefulness to Chloe that we don’t see in Cave. She’s the one who has it more together than he does in the wake of her mother’s death. It’s a more complex relationship than any we’ve seen in the Young Animal line so far and proves to be captivating to watch as the story moves through its paces.
All of this character analysis doesn’t even begin to account for the more overt weirdness happening throughout Cave Carson. The primary plot of the story follows Cave as he readjusts to life at EBX, the mineral mining corporation that employs Cave to go underground and harvest raw and rare materials for them. The exact nature of how the company works is a bit obfuscated throughout the issue, but we get the distinctive sense that things have changed dramatically while Cave has been gone. EBX has developed new mining cars and even a new training course for miners like Cave. We get the sense that, even here, where Cave’s legacy is beloved, he still feels out of place. This is only exacerbated by Cave’s eye, which we learn is malfunctioning and causing him to hallucinate people and places that aren’t there. The cherry on top of all of this is when a person from Muldroog, the city that Eileen hailed from, comes to Cave’s door begging for help. She tells him that EBX is doing something to the city before exploding into some sort of monstrous alien. It’s an effective climax that ties several of the many discordant threads woven throughout Cave Carson #1 together.
It’s easy to recommend Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1, but it’s hard to say that it’s meant for the same audience that Doom Patrol and Shade, the Changing Girl are appealing to. This book is by far the most mature outing undertaken by the Young Animal line so far. If the first two titles launched by the imprint are the outgoing people partying inside the animal house, Cave Carson is the moody guy bumming a cigarette while broodily staring through the living room window. I loved the book and recommend it fullheartedly, but I have to admit I came out the other side feeling a little more blue than I did going in.
What’d you think, Kyle? How about that gorgeous Tom Scioli backup?
Kyle Pinion: Honestly Alex, you pretty much cover my thoughts on the issue to a t. It’s a book I had to read twice to really calculate even a solid opinion on, it’s just so different than the two series that have preceded it. Keep in mind, I think that’s a good thing, but I’m not really sure what sort of expectations around a Cave Carson comic I had in the first place. I’ve read a lot of DC in my 33 years on this earth, but Cave is one of those characters that has completely escaped me.
So to get back to the comparisons, where Doom Patrol is a fairly chaotic experience, full of jagged edges, and Shade the Changing Girl has a floating downstream, neo-psychedelic vibe, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye has the somber tones of a 50’s Cold War noir while incorporating a lot of the fun Space Age elements of that same era. There’s this terrific visual snap between the colder, grayer palette of the post funeral scenes and the retro-”atomic powered” EBX headquarters. My favorite beat of that entire sequence being Cave observing the training of his former team, which felt like something straight out of a really good Pixar film, especially when one of the trainees gets nailed by the giant obstacle. It’s a tiny moment, but this is a comic that’s all about doing little things really well.
Which in turn leads me to bringing up how it parses out its “stranger” bits, which are filtered through the eponymous “Cybernetic Eye”, it’s funny to think about…but any mental flashback that’s provided to Cave via the eye is akin to an acid freakout, with the same sort of dreamy visuals that we’d see in Shade, which then quickly turn dark. In a sense, it’s like Rivera, Way and Oeming are attempting to produce a comic that encapsulates almost three different genres that are specific to eras in American culture that all buttressed one another, but do it in a modern setting within the current DCU. For this Mad Men fan, that’s quite the attractive proposition. And you know what else appeals to me? The appearance of some other C-level DC players that make perfect additions to the supporting cast here, particularly Will Magnus, who has often been the go-to guy for “scientific solutions” in various tales under the company banner. Here we get a couple of really fun moments between Will and Cave, especially the line where he disregards a story Cave was about to tell as “irrelevant” and referred to him as the “world’s most famous rock person”. I have a feeling their interactions are going to be the highlight of any time Magnus pops back up to help Cave determine the origins of his eye.
Also, another big surprise came from the appearance of Wild Dog, who represents a whole other era of superhero/vigilante storytelling! Seriously, some books say they have it all, but with Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, I’m starting to believe it.
As for the “Super Powers” back-up? I was a fairly big fan of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, which is a title whose ideas and art outweighed the fact that I knew nothing about those characters, and American Barbarian was an absolute delight (I highly recommend the IDW hardcover). So, having Scioli on board for on-going back-ups in this title, especially one that’s laser focused on the toy-line that I cherished as a youth is indeed exciting. I think the few pages we get are a great start, I was enthralled by the bizarre origin story start for the Wonder Twins and then the quick shift over to the Joker up to some very Silver Age Joker hijinx in Gotham. There’s not a ton to work with here, but it gives you a sense of what the DCU reinterpreted by a visionary storyteller like Scioli would look like. I’m as equally excited by the promise of this as I am the main tale. But that’s no mark on Cave Carson— I just really like Scioli that much.
Final Verdict: Buy