It’s the end of summer, the return to school, the beginning of fall, and that means one thing in comics: C.F. is back for a bit more of the old ultraviolence in a new “Prison Pit” book! It may be a tradition that only continues for a few more years according to Johnny Ryan in an interview with Tim Callahan, but it’s become one of my favorites of September. It’s another hundred pages or so of mayhem and violence and crude humor and excellent storytelling and gross drawings. “Prison Pit” is everything sick and twisted that I love, but am often afraid to admit I love in the form of a comic.
For the first half of Book 3, the protagonist of the series thus far, C.F., doesn’t appear. Instead, we’re introduced to a skinny, long-haired, pointed-teeth squinty freak in shackles, the apparent eponymous “Arch-Enemy” of the chapter. His run-in with four other creatures in the pit takes up the chapter and provides lots of inventive acts of violence and surreal imagery. We don’t know much about this ‘Arch-Enemy’ other than he’s searching for C.F. and can withstand an amazing amount of punishment. When he’s eaten by one of the creatures he encounters, they all assume he’s dead — until he manages to break through the creature’s lower intestines in a stunning visual sequence shown, at first, through the subtle mixture of blood into the creature’s urine and culminating with the ‘Arch-Enemy’ pulling his internal organs out as he escapes.
The second half of the issue finds C.F. in the mysterious Caligulon, a fortress floating underground, and housing his missing arm. As he fights his way to the arm and for the right to keep it, Ryan delivers a sequence where you can almost hear the pounding rock music theme as good ol’ C.F. cuts the top of his skull, covering his face in blood to once again present his iconic crimson masked look. This sequence contains some of Ryan’s most intricate and detailed art in the collective enemy C.F. faces, made up of the heads of the beings that run the Caligulon. It’s nothing but geometric patterns for a few pages and absolutely stunning to look at, especially when they eventually create a recognizable form.
Like the first two volumes, Ryan operates mostly in a four-panel grid, creating a quick read that allows the violence and carnage to wash over you. The pacing also allows for moments to be slowed down and shown in increments like the aforementioned urine-to-blood sequence, or the transition between the two chapters using darkness and the gradual zooming in on C.F. as he seemingly floats in the darkness.
Ryan’s line work is at its best in some parts of this volume, showing the ability to continually come up with inventive weird visuals. The first half of the book is nothing but new forms of violence and strange creatures that become different strange creatures. Every page brings a new visual that you will never, ever be able to forget. The second half shows off more minimalist compositions, giving the book an interesting asymmetry.
The only bad thing about “Prison Pit” Book 3 coming out is that it will be another year until Book 4 is released, especially with the cliffhanger that this volume ends on. Ryan shows himself to be an inventive cartoonist, never satisfied with staying in the same place even while dealing with similar subject matter to the first two volumes. Nothing here feels like simple repetition, which, with extreme violence like this, is hard to pull off.