Have you ever had an inebriated friend tell you their “big idea” at a party? You know, their “big idea”, the movie they would make, the book they would write, maybe even they’re in the process of writing it. If you doubt that this is a thing, that everyday people carry around big, crazy ideas inside them, you have a very dull social circle. So your friend is telling you the big idea and you can tell that he’s really into it, he’s really coming alive, but the problem is the combination of alcohol, plus excitement fueled adrenaline has made his already fairly complicated future story into a near impossible to follow series of meaningless names, make believe companies and a time line of events that makes Memento look like Rope. When he finally gets to the end and says, “And that’s when they realize…” you do your best to act shocked at his twist, surprise ending, but really, you have no idea what he’s talking about or why anything that just happened was a surprise, twist or ending. This is something of the Enormous experience. Now, just like your excited, drunk friend, there is good in Enormous but that goodness gets lost under a lot of confusion.
Page 1 begins first, “PHOENIX AZ, THE FUTURE”, then, “17 YEARS POST ALCHEM SYSTEM INCEPTION//15 YEARS POST NORTH AMERICAN ALCHEM NODE IMPOSION// 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY E-DAY, THE DAY OF OUR EXTINCTION”. Then as the story continues we go back and forth from this much time before this event and that much time before that event and then at one point THE event is even referenced as THE EVENT, which makes me think that in this universe their televisions never carried NBC. You might be thinking to yourself, “That’s not so hard to follow” well that’s because you’re staring at words floating against a distraction free background with a font that isn’t DISASTER FALLOUT font. Plus in the span of the first four pages we’re told first we’re in THE FUTURE, then, we go to E-DAY, then we’re told ONE YEAR LATER. Wait? So you mean the present? And by present, I mean the present future, from two pages ago? This is one of those “excited friend” moments, where he has so many ideas about story that not all of them are necessary and some are actually distracting and confusing, but he puts them all in there because he’s been telling his idea to everyone he’s met over the last three years and he’s not about to change it now.
Sometimes when someone has such a set concrete notion of the story they want to tell, they get so lost up in, for lack of a better phrase, “the coolness” of it, that they don’t think about the sense of it. I don’t mean “coolness” as a dirty word there, when The Saint Of Killers gets a nuke dropped on him it is for the sake of “the coolness”. So when our protagonist’s friend Reyes begins to warn franticly in spanish that they need to cut the lights or the flying giant mutant dinovamps will kill them all, it’s cool, it’s definitely cool, because we love it when the good guy warns the bad guy but the bad guy doesn’t believe him until it’s too late. But these men who are holding Reyes (and Ellen, the protagonist, forgot to mention her) are supposed to be tough, armed, fallen future survival warriors, who are holed up way high in an essentially open air skyscraper, these men don’t know that light attracts these flying winged monsters of death? Really?
Time moves so distinctly and concretely that it actually works against the author’s intentions rather than for them. By being so specific it suddenly makes you feel like you’re supposed to be taking notes. Also constantly saying ONE HOUR LATER or SIX HOURS LATER makes the scenes feel weird and rushed. So the group of children, two hostages, assorted armed guards and angry, old group leader James really just spent like, 10 hours together, just standing in a circle? Is anyone eating? We’re told at one point that Reyes is getting hit with the butt of a rifle because Ellen closed her eyes which leads into a comment about loyalty which some how means something. Also, they make it through the night with their spotlights blazing, only to have the vampire dinovamps attack in the middle of the next day? With the sun out? Isn’t that the brightest light of all? Shouldn’t they be booking it into the stratosphere?
The story begins with our hero, Ellen, alternating between a flashback involving her attempt to save her mother’s life (ending when her mother was ripped out of her wheelchair by a huge toothy monster) and her time in the present (future) where she’s searching for survivors. She thinks she’s found three children, but she’s really just found bait. But this bait isn’t even in the same building as the “leader” who they end up being brought to. Which is confusing and makes you wonder, does this group of armed, violent dudes put children as bait with a watchful, concealed guy in every building in Phoenix? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just set up traps in the building you are already in? Instead of having to now guide the captured woman and your bait children through the over-run with monsters streets of Phoenix. Especially considering that part of the perilous cross town voyage involves a tunnel overgrown with carinverous, psychotropic plants which is either a not so subtle PSA, (“You start feeling euphoric, then they eat you alive”) or just a trippy bit of weirdness that never comes back for the rest of the story. Either way, what?
We then leave the skyscraper to cut to the base where Ellen started out from, an abandoned missile silo, though I guess in a fallen world every building is an abandoned one. Here we’re introduced to the rest of the cast, and while the digital, photorealist art can be beautiful and it definitely is many, many times throughout the book, one thing it’s not good for is people’s faces. Everyone looks so real that everyone looks too alike and nondescript. A hat or a beard isn’t enough to distinguish a character when everyone looks haggard and unkept. When we find out that it was “Ridge” who helped Ellen escape (oh yeah, she went over to rescue kids without permission from the silo leader, another long haired woman who looks just like Ridge) we discover that Ridge looks exactly like Ellen.
It’s a 64 page book and I’m not going to go page by page and point out all the things that don’t make sense, because that would be exhausting and as confusing as it is to me it would be even more confusing to you. But I will tell you about the things the book does have going for it, for example, the art. The art is gorgeous, despite the inability at times to tell the difference between characters, the environments are beautiful. The monsters look terrifying and unworldly, just like giant monsters should. The skies are soft and warm, azure hues mingle with fiery orange and red. The violence is graphic enough to show you that the creators aren’t messing around, but not so graphic that you need to take shower and call your mom (David Lapham, i’m looking in your direction).
Another aspect that the books succeeds in is the pacing. The creative team behind Enormous cram so many ideas into 64 pages, yet there are more than enough panels that give you intimate, deep tastes of this world, free from the mania and insanity of the main plot. Every time there’s an intense scene of action it seems that it will be bookended with little glimpses beyond the guns and monsters. Perhaps it’s the mature, careful pacing of the book that throws off the plot of the story. Enormous feels like a 120 page graphic novel that had half of it cut out, as in, upon arriving at the end of the story I felt like I almost understood what they were talking about. I read it again to be sure that it wasn’t just that I failed to pick up on this story detail or that story detail.
Some comics need to have their story fleshed out over time. There’s no way you would’ve been able to tell the story of Sweet Tooth in 64 pages. And they couldn’t tell the story of Enormous in that amount either. That’s what I want to reiterate because when I don’t like a book, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that I didn’t like it, since using my original drunk friend analogy, I like my drunk friend, I just don’t follow what he’s saying when he lets his love get in the way of his story telling. Make Enormous an ongoing, give us as an audience more time to get to know these characters and know this world, then when things are revealed they’ll mean so much more.
There is great potential in the world of Enormous, but in it’s present state it’s far too cluttered to be realized.
Enormous is published by Image Comics this coming Wednesday.