Liberator is a comic with an interesting story behind it. Funded by Kickstarter, with the support of some animal charities and other similar organisations, published by Black Mask Studios of Occupy Comics fame and written by newcomer Matt Miner – a Scott Snyder protege who is a real-life dog rescuer – this is a comic that is very much an “issue book”, built around raising awareness of a worthy cause, namely the prevention of animal cruelty. The backmatter includes compelling essays on the subject, and all Miner’s proceeds for the book are stated to be going to animal charities. I was a bit torn going into this, as while I thought a story about a masked (non-super) hero who has a specific modus operandi of protecting animals and meting out retribution on those who abuse them was an intriguing angle to take on the crime-fighting genre, “worthy” comics can set alarm bells ringing in how easy it is to get so caught up in the issue you’re trying to draw attention to that core stuff like plot and character gets lost in the shuffle.
Thankfully, Miner’s script mostly sidesteps this problem. Yes, there is a heavy focus on why cruelty to animals is wrong, but there’s still room for characterisation, and though I read a lot of Miner himself into our protagonist Damon Guerrero, it still feels like a character with a believable mindset and philosophy as opposed to the author just directly preaching to us. I liked the interplay and contrast between Guerrero – who masks his nocturnal animal-rescuing activities in a mundane, non-confrontational personal life – and outspoken activist Jeanette.
But Miner’s writing does have its pitfalls. Like many inexperienced writers (I still include myself in my own efforts in the field!), Miner often writes too damn much. I’m torn on whether the narration was just used in too much excess, or utterly unnecessary altogether. I got to page 10 before I reached a sequence where I felt the captions were probably necessary. In the opening scene in particular, I think the story would have felt much more evocative if done as a silent sequence, culminating in the dramatic splash page of the burning house, with the “NO MORE ABUSE, WE’RE FREE – THE DOGS” grafitti on display as the first words of the story. Instead, we get a lot of overwrought narration that borders on purple prose, and doesn’t really tell us any more about this guy and what he’s doing than the images would tell us anyway.
There’s the odd bit of clunky dialogue here and there too, particularly in parts where the story requires characters to have a certain emotional reaction to something that’s been said, but the actual words spoken shouldn’t really have the impact to illicit such a response. I also feel like the plot could have done more to raise the stakes and establish a conflict for our protagonist if this is to be a series and not just a oneshot. But niggles aside, there was still some solid world-building done in this introductory issue.
The artwork of Javier Sanchez Aranda is sadly inconsistent. In some sequences, he does very well, such as the aforementioned title page splash, or in his depictions of animals, in whom he is able to imbue with an impressive amount of expression and sadness – a handy skill for this comic in particular. But there are instances, particularly in his drawing of people, where things just don’t sit right: the odd bit of awkward anatomy here, or an occasional clumsy facial expression there. It makes the comic feel very “indie”, though Joaquin Pereyra’s slick colors give the visuals more of a professional sheen.
Liberators #1 is a flawed comic, and reads like a creative team still learning to find their voice and settle into a creative groove. But it’s an intriguing concept, and a story with potential, so it could be worthwhile seeing this talent develop further in future issues.