In bringing “Amazing Forest” #1 — Erick Freitas and Ulises Farinas’ eclectic quartet of tales — into print for the first time, IDW Publishing has put a truly alternative comic on the shelves. With every tale drawn by a different artist and each having their own unique styles, the stories all shy away from having any kind of common framework, save for all roughly falling into the science fiction genre. The writers’ stories span themes ranging from the meaning of heroism to the destructiveness of isolationism and each succeeds in varying degrees. Collectively, this set of short stories hits the mark for readers seeking something a little — no, a lot — different.
Drawn by Julien Dafour, “Tank” takes place in a world invaded by shape-shifting, mind-reading aliens who take the forms of survivors’ loved ones in an attempt to quash resistance. Freitas and Farinas’ story pits three hardened fighters against the more kindly ways of the doctor they’re isolated with, and the doctor’s seeming disparity with the rest of his group makes way for a surprising conclusion. This apocalyptic, barren world seems straight out of many a classic science fiction novel, and Dafour’s execution of it is filled with both inanimate and organic ugliness, which is found both inside and outside the walls that separate human from alien. The writers’ pervasive lack of contractions in the characters dialogue (“Ugh; it is Sarah and Billy,” etc.) is a bit odd, but strangely adds to the cold and desolate feel of the story.
Matt Rota’s “Wolf Mother” is more ambiguous and even seems deliberately confusing in spots. In a world where man and wolf are enemies, a young boy named Hugo is intent on returning a wolf pup to its mother in the aftermath of an attack. Rota’s art is difficult to make out at times; one panel shows a close-up of the pup, but it yields no clue as to what is supposed to be happening in it. Freitas and Farinas play some tricks with the narrative and their intent with perspective becomes somewhat obvious midway through, but the meaning of their story never really is. Whether it’s a commentary on the bond between mother and son or the concept that every child belongs to someone is never made clear or understandable.
“Ronnie the Robot” by Melody Often is a kind of cross-pollination between a 1950s EC Comics sci-fi and 1970s underground comic, as a futuristic soldier/robot hybrid returns home from battle to his wife and daughter, although changed forever in a way even he doesn’t realize. Often’s art is a crude but versatile mix that can readily switch between pretty and ugly; the little girl is ragdoll cute, while the lowlifes that harass her mom are deliberately unsightly, as is what happens to them. The new normal that Mom unsettlingly comes to terms with is rendered in creepily cold fashion, but the writers effectively evoke emotions of disgust, sadness and endearment, almost all at once in the issue’s most emotional story.
Yumi Sakugawa’s “The Bird Watcher” is probably the issue’s most unsettling story, where a man’s empty life pushes him further into self-isolation. Freitas and Farinas’ story appears to be largely symbolic but could also be interpreted literally. Sakugawa’s rudimentary art — which works effectively enough — exemplifies the simplicity and emptiness of the protagonist’s life, as well as the “Outer Limits” kind of creep factor this story carries. A key moment of heartbreak points to the end of the man’s life, figuratively as much as literally.
Farinas’ painfully detailed cover is somewhat evocative of the issue’s first story, with an obscenely armed robotic construct taking on a Buddha-faced slime alien, and makes the issue almost impossible not to least peek through — something potential readers can do now that a physical copy of the issue exists. “Amazing Forest” #1 contains a varied assortment of stories, and — while not all of them will please every reader — there’s enough within to satisfy anyone looking for something well off the beaten path.