Just some good ‘ol boys. Never meanin’ no harm. Stuffin’ people in their maw, been covered up by the law since the day they were born. Southern folks versus not-quite-zombies in the first collection of Cannibal.
Cannibal Vol. 1 (Image Comics)
If you like The Walking Dead, but have a hard time wrapping your head around the physicality of reanimated corpses, then Cannibal is the (marginally) more realistic slant on southern survivalist horror you’ve been waiting for. Much like The Walking Dead, the general conceit of the series is that there is a mysterious virus out there that is infecting people with the uncontrollable urge to devour human flesh. Fortunately, much like The Walking Dead, this fact is sort of set as window dressing for a more interesting interplay of character arcs and plot development. It’s to the credit of writers Brian Buccellatto and Jennifer Young that this opening section of the story reads more like a true crime series than a horror one.
Set in the Florida Everglades one year into the emergence of the cannibal disease, the story follows the Hansen family, owners and proprietors of the Hog’s River Bar & Grill. There’s youngest son Cash, who has a–let’s call it unique relationship with stripper with a heart of gold, Jolene. There’s older brother Grady, a fisherman looking out for his troubled friend, and Danny and Roy, family patriarch and small business owner who…well actually, he’s not that important to the plot, but he’s there all the same. The aforementioned Danny, however, is perhaps the most interesting character of the bunch, however, as we learn of both his disastrous relationship with his son’s mother and the fact that he’s on the run following her mysterious death.
Each character has their own distinct voice, though admittedly Grady is pretty bland, but this makes their interactions interesting and layered. While the most interesting storyline deveopments tend to hover around Danny (or his ex sister-in-law Louise), it’s probably Cash who gets the most growth as a character. I mention this to once again hammer home the fact that the whole “cannibal” thing that the series even takes its title from really only surfaces in a sort of vignette style for most of this introductory arc, though a few things in the final issue of this trade suggest that it will be a more focal point of the series moving forward.
The art of Mattias Bergara is a strong point for the series, as his sketchy, almost Leinil Yu-style pencils lend a sort of harsh or gritty tone to the images. His real talent, however, lies in the way he paces out tense scenes. Take for example Louise and Boone’s trip to the convenience store, which uses angles and POV shots akin to the Friday the 13th films to perforate the tense sequence between the disgruntled customer and the cashier. You also see shades of this in the scene where Grady and his posse hunt the cannibal that attacked a kid outside of Hog’s River. It really gives you the sense that Bergara’s layouts will become the real star of the show once the series’ horrific premise becomes a more central part of the story.
Overall, Cannibal is a pretty good read. It is, at times, pretty reminiscent of The Walking Dead, both in premise and characterization, but time will tell how it manages to differentiate itself from the more prominent series. For now, it’s an interesting story with familiar but unique characters set in a world with rising stakes that are only now starting to interact with our central cast as we wrap the first arc. Given the series’ irregular printing schedule, I hope to catch up with the Hansens sooner than later.