Review – I Breathed a Body #2 (AfterShock Comics)

Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Andy MacDonald
Colours: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane Elhaou
Release Date: 24th February 2021

The aftermath of Milo Caliban’s horrific live suicide is now being carefully choreographed to keep his followers in a frenzy. While Anne/Zoe and Dalton are creating the spectacle, it is clearly Bramwell Caliban who is the grand architect. But horrific spectacle and share prices aside, there is something even more sinister and horrific hiding behind the actions of this man who, however cold and callous, should be grieving the death of his son.

This issue has kind of knocked me for six, so apologies in advance if what follows is a bit stream of consciousness, as I’m just not sure how to process it all.

The continued deconstruction of Milo Caliban is utterly horrific, not just in the act itself (and trust me, that is a whole world of messed up), but in the way it is revealing the true nature of those perpetrating this media circus. I can understand, to a point, Dalton’s motivations. He has seen atrocity and war, he’s been through the meat grinder and come out the other side, he literally owes his life to Bramwell Caliban. That is a kind of loyalty that can’t be bought, but it is generally a blind loyalty and while Dalton appears to be, at his core, a good man there is no certainty which side he would come down on if things went really wrong.

Anne is a different matter. She plays it tough and cold and selfish, but however hard she tries to hide it, her reason d’être is to make a better life for her daughter, and possibly become a person that can be a part of that life. It’s fascinating and disturbing to watch just how far she’ll compromise herself in order to achieve that goal, and whether what she becomes at the end is even something capable of being that person.

Bramwell Caliban terrifies me. I can’t quite verbalise why – there’s something of Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter about him, but a colder, less charismatic version perhaps. There is something about a complete lack of accountability or fear of punishment that makes people like Caliban so utterly dangerous and unpredictable. All that money, all that power, absolute control over a unique technology that has a mysterious and sinister origin, the knowledge that you can do absolutely anything with no repercussions, and the super ego which allows you to believe that whatever you do is justified because it’s you doing it. It is very obvious in this issue that part of whatever game he’s playing is to see just how far he can push Anne. What level of degradation of her beliefs and actions will she stoop to? This is something that becomes very, evident in the most stomach-turning way at the climax of this issue.

While I understand the concept of a Mycelium Network, the actual scope and repercussions of the interpretations we’re seeing in literature and on screen do not fill me with hope for the future of humanity. It is a fascinating, amazing process that just shows how little we really understand, and fail to appreciate, the communication and cooperation between plants and fungi across our planet (it also helps to be a bit of a Trekkie, if you’ve been watching Star Trek Discovery). The idea of plants and fungi becoming super-intelligent is the stuff of nightmares. In David Cronenberg’s vision of The Fly, Seth Brundle gives a chilling statement: “Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first… insect politician. Y’see, I’d like to, but… I’m afraid, uh…”

Now imagine how little compassion and compromise plants would have towards the human race if they were in the position to defend themselves from what we have done to their home…

There have been innumerable stories written about strange fungi, about sentient plant life and ecosystems, about gods and elementals that exist purely to maintain the natural balance, and the vast majority of them end very badly for us. So what kind of story are we going to get from I Breathed A Body? Well, let’s not kid ourselves boys and girls, this is a story written by Zac Thompson; this is a story that has been horrific from the start, and if I’ve learned anything about the way that Zac writes over the years, it is that he has the ability to just keep building the terror and the tension and the horror all the way to the very last page. So, given the level of fucked up we’ve started with, this is going to be an insane rollercoaster by the end.

There are many, many other things going on in this issue that might easily get left behind in the wake of such a barrage of atrocities, the almost religious cult of Milo Caliban and a truly horrific take on giving a piece of yourself to your fans. The hidden watcher from the first issue (you’ll kick yourself when you go back looking for it), starts to work their way out of the shadows. I have an idea where this is thread is going, and yes, I’m going to be smug and evasive about it until the reveal, but if I’m wrong, I promise I will be the first person to say “shit, did not see that coming”. The incredibly creepy growth discovered during Milo’s “autopsy”… now you’re starting to understand why this barrage has knocked me sideways, and I haven’t even started talking about the artwork yet.

Andy MacDonald and Triona Farrell continue to do an utterly incredible and beautiful and horrific job of bringing this story to life. To be able to take this script and produce artwork that is as disturbing as this, but also somehow manage to imbue these images with a sense of beauty is a skill that is almost incomprehensible. There is so much going on in this issue, and I’ve already said that it would be easy to miss things. For example, it took me far too long to realise that Milo’s body is being displayed like some macabre but beautifully bejewelled sculpture in the middle of the dining room while Bramwell entertains his guests. I mean, how do you make a partially dissected and butchered corpse appear beautiful? Well, MacDonald and Farrell make it look effortless. It also makes the viands on display at the table that much more disturbing, particularly with the alien and unidentifiable “joints” hanging in Bramwell’s pantry.

There is also a lot of detail involved in these pages, and some really interesting design of the panels and the way they flow through the narrative, allowing for panels within panels, detail outside the panel structure, and some utterly breath-taking splash pages. I love the little details, I love things like the framed pictures of what I think are fungal spores adorning Beamwell’s study walls. It’s very easy to put all the detail into the main focus of the panel but MacDonald and Farrell seem to delight in filling in all those gaps with something interesting.

One thing (ha, just one…) that has me puzzled at the moment is a device that rockstar letterer Hassan Otsmane Elhaou has employed over the last two issues.  Namely, the highlighting of apparently random words in the main protagonist’s dialogue. It is driving me nuts because it has to mean something, but for the life of me I cannot work it out. Hassan is a favourite of mine, and I’ve been really growing in my appreciation of just how important these guys really are in tying art and narrative together.

I can only see this story getting crazier, darker and more horrific, and I can’t express enough how bloody excited I am to see where the rest of this series goes. We still have to get to the supernatural aspects of the story, and oh boy am I looking forward to diving into that nightmare. Plus, the cliffhanger this issue leaves us on is going to have my nerves on edge until next month.

Buy this series, please.  Please go out and buy this. I need this book to do well because I want to see the trade come out, and I want that to do so well that someone greenlights an oversized hardcover edition, because that, ultimately, is what I need on my shelf. I want a huge book that really shows off the art with scripts and concept art and essays on the process of writing and designing something this good. Come on, I’ve never led you astray, help an ageing comic reader out and buy this book right now.

Rating: 5/5.

The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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