Another recent addition to the impressive roster of projects by comics publisher 215 Ink, Buck caught my interest in that it is the latest project by writer Stephen Lindsay. Lindsay is a writer that seems to specialise in bringing to life crazy high concepts, first with the title-says-it-all Jesus Hates Zombies, then taking it to the next level in Massive Awesome, an action-adventure about a giant, talking streak of commando bacon and a zombie pickle. I loved the heck out of Massive Awesome, with that nutso headtrip of a comic showcasing the offbeat creativity of a writer who is surely going to be one to watch.
At first glance, Buck seems to have a concept that’s just as gloriously ridiculous as its predecessors: a small community hunted by a giant deer in a dramatic case of role-reversal. But while the sheer relish with which Lindsay dove into the absurd made those earlier tales highly enjoyable, there is a sense of growing maturity here in that the writer instead opts to play the telling of this story relatively straight-faced. So far, I’m in fact reminded strongly of Jaws, and I consider that comparison a compliment, as that has long ranked amongst my all-time favorite movies. Like in Jaws, this opening act is nearly all meticulous set-up. Just as was the case with seaside resort Amity Island, the setting of Buck is key. As we’re introduced to Pititchu, we see trees everywhere, hovering in the background even in the establishing shots of the key population centres – you get the sense of the forest closing in all around these people. In both cases, the location is ideally suited to the monster in question, and so already you’re already imagining they could jump out at you at any moment. It’s an example of great storytelling: letting your audience do much of the work for you.
Our cheerful cast of archetypes seem largely there to make us question who’s going to get offed next, but even so, Lindsay grants them enough quirks and wrinkles to make them feel like real humans rather than mere cannon fodder. In particular, small-town sheriff Layne makes for a likable protagonist, and we quickly get a feel for his personality and how he relates to the rest of the ensemble. In stories like this it’s all too easy for the monster to become the star, and the truly great ones are anchored by a hero you can root for as the underdog against said monster, and Layne seems well-primed to fill this role.
Danny Kelly’s art is a bit of a mixed bag. As mentioned above, his location work is masterful, and while it’s never in-your-face, that sense of place and atmosphere is a major factor in the success of this first issue. He also does some nice work with facial expressions, and while the basic facial structures of his characters all look similar, he makes sure to give them each their little details to make them stand out from each other. But a couple of bits here and there feel sketchy and rushed, and the blood effect in one central scene looks dangerously close to someone just using the spraypaint feature in MS Paint.
One element I was ambivalent about was the reveal of the eponymous “Buck”. Spoilers ahoy, if you don’t want to know. See, for much of the issue so much work is done so effectively in building up this giant deer as a truly monstrous, formidable threat. You’re imagining in your head how terrifying it could look, how cool a monster it could end up being revealed as. Then we see it and…. it’s just a really big deer. But I don’t know if I can really fault Danny Kelly for this, as his subsequent drawing of said really big deer is faultless. It could be more to do with Stephen Lindsay’s decision on how the buck is to appear, perhaps with the reveal working as a kind of expectation-puncturing sight gag. Viewed in that regard, it’s a clever idea, but I don’t know if it quite works.
But really, I’m nitpicking. As a first issue, Buck #1 is a near-textbook example on how to introduce your story and set the stage for what is to come with ruthless efficiency. Buck is a classic monster story with a clever twist, while still respecting and staying true to the hallmarks of the genre. Looking forward to seeing where it goes from here!