Claustrophobia and the half-aware state of arousal after a period of sleep; horror can be captured in these moments while vision, dream and memory slowly compose themselves into reality. It is in this semi-lucid state that one finds themselves while reading “Dogs of Mars”, a new graphic novel by Zito, Trov, Weiser and Maybury,set for release from Image Comics in May. My first impression of this comic was skewed by the seemingly childish artwork, and almost monochrome color palette of blacks and reds, but this style of art is what inspires and ultimately drives the horror captured by this novel. I found myself peering at the pages looking for details that simply weren’t there, and flipping pages in a frenzy to understand the convoluted, nonlinear plot.
WRITTEN BY: Johnny Zito, Tony Trov, Christian Weiser
ART BY: Paul Maybury
RELEASE: May 2
The premise of the comic is quite simple; the storyline is not. The reader is abruptly thrown onto the red planet, Mars, in the midst of what could either be a court martial or mutiny. The leader of a group of elite space marines, Captain Zoe, is at the mercy of her second in command, Turk, who is charging Zoe with murder. And yes, the second in command is female as well. The ambiguity of this scene lends to the character development and madness which encapsulates the entire book. The fiendish revelations of past actions heightens the reader’s understandings of the irrational, emotion based decisions that the characters make. While initially these choices seem overwhelmingly self serving, the tangle of emotion is pulled apart allowing the reader to identify and understand the madness that has driven these soldiers to make these decisions. The authors of this story have penned a situation that is very similar to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, but instead of the reader slowly being taken down the river, led to the denouement of the hut surrounded by decapitated heads, the reader is thrust into the middle of this madness from the very beginning.
The whole atmosphere of isolation and madness is translated to the reader in two ways. The first is through the storyline, which contains flashbacks, dreams and unconscious hallucinations. The second is through the artwork. As I said the premise of the novel is simple enough: marines are placed on Mars with the mission of making the planet habitable with the help of some scientific device that they are building. Cabin fever ensues. Hard. Then the dogs arrive… What is great about the way the insanity of the crew is communicated is how everything is so effing red! It was a not so subtle detail that took me a moment of hard thinking to realize, “Why is it all red? Oh yeah, they’re on Mars…” after this epiphany the cabin fever and irrationality of the crew really starts to make sense. They have been stranded on this uninhabitable planet for months, with only each other for company and the red light (along with their egos and actions) has driven them crazy.
It is at the height of this craziness, an ego-tripping inspired mission led by Captain Zoe into the middle of bumblefuck nowhere Martian desert against the protestations of Turk, that the dogs appear. Now the novel opens with a scene of ambiguity: court martial or mutiny? And the dogs are at first slightly ambiguous: figment of their crazy imaginations, or actual threat? And suddenly the court martial scene begins to make more sense. Did Captain Zoe really just lose her shit in the middle of the Martian desert and kill every member of her crew? The ambiguity of the artwork combined with Zoe’s hallucinations make this seem very possible, but then the real killing starts.
The dogs, of course which the novel is named after, are incredibly badass. Part zombie, part werewolf, all round killing machines, and potentially part hallucination, these suckers are the ultimate horror inspiring killers. One of the things I loved about this novel was the nightmare like state of ambiguity that it inspires. What truly completes this feeling is the fact that the dogs move, and kill, at such super human speeds that the movement and kill (only the gory aftermath) are not depicted by detailed illustration. This transmits the ultimate feeling of helplessness: the nightmare of not being able to run while being chased by the most fear inspiring creature imaginable.
While I still think that it would be fun to read the dogs in this novel as personified inner demons, thats just because I have a piece of paper they call a lit degree and write comic book reviews. This novel is totally worth picking up as an extremely well written, edge of your seat, heart pounding, sweaty palmed ride. The plot is excellent and any thoughts of this being cliche or, “That’s been done before, watch Total Recall“, fly out the window purely because this novel is so emotionally driven. And not in a trifling Gossip Girl way, but a raw, primal feel it in your nuts (or lady parts) way. I also liked the fact that the protagonists where both female. It definitely added another element that made this an extra ordinary comic. So pick up a copy and find out why Zoe and Turk hate each other’s guts, get some nightmares about killer dogs and learn if they make Mars habitable!