As David Lapham’s “Juice Squeezers” mini-series prepares to wrap up, this comic about high school students fighting gigantic bugs has been perfectly fine — both a blessing and a curse. Each issue feels like it’s got its money’s worth, but a month later when the next installment pops up, you realize that you haven’t thought about it since the previous installment. It’s good, but it’s not great.
The basic setup for those who aren’t reading is fairly simple: massive insects have infested a series of tunnels underneath Weeville, California, and the only thing standing between them and a full-fledged swarm is a group of high school students who can squeeze into the narrow openings and kill bugs. Everything’s been at an impasse, until a new family moves into a farm on the outskirts of town, where the insect army is teeming underneath. And as the Juice Squeezers attempt to save new kid Billy and his father, a new piece of technology offers the chance to finally take the fight directly to the bugs’ lair.
With seven kids plus an adult mentor, one of the biggest problems with “Juice Squeezers” is that most of them still are indistinguishable from one another. That’s frustrating, because Lapham’s gifts of characterization are sometimes blisteringly strong (like in the about-to-return “Stray Bullets”), but this is a sea of bland aside from Billy and Lizzy. It’s almost certainly no coincidence that the two’s relationship is what pushes the series along; I like their interactions, and if the cast had been pared down to just them and maybe two other kids, I wouldn’t bat an eye.
What does make “Juice Squeezers” #3 (and the series in general) work is the menace of the bugs themselves. They’re genuinely creepy, especially more about the different types starts to be revealed. Psychic Jerusalem crickets that control the other species in order to steal food and lay waste to the surrounding areas? Yes, please. Add in the general creepy factor of massive weevils, dung beetles, and centipedes crawling around and that’s where we’ve got a bit more of a winner. And while Lapham’s kids look perfectly fine and normal, it’s the bugs where his art will grab you. The final scene of the insects swarming the elevator, for instance, will give those with bug phobias nightmares for weeks. They’re really well drawn, looking both realistic and terrifying at the same time.
“Juice Squeezers” is set up to be a series of mini-series, and if it does indeed return, hopefully it offers a better grasp of the other kids. Lapham’s been giving them some scenes and characterization here and there, but nothing’s been strong enough to stick for long. If he can do that, well, I think it’ll be a winner. As it is, right now it’s a fun enough read, but I do wish it was something where I’m itching to find out what happens next.