“The Humans” is a series that takes its central concept very seriously and, in doing so, injects a true sense of joy into the storytelling by playing the entire concept with a poker face. It wears its pulpy, exploitation roots as proudly as a patch on its denim vest. Issue #3 continues Johnny’s reintegration into the gang, recounting his own problems in Vietnam via drug-fueled flashback.
Keenan Marshall Keller gives depth and humanity to the lead primate, guiding us through a gruesome and short-lived tour of duty in the jungles that Johnny experiences in real time, lushly depicted via Tom Neely’s adept art and the vivid palette of Kristina Collantes. Their art style is evocative of the heavily lined, ink rich underground comix of the era to which this series pays homage. It’s beautiful to behold; the characters themselves are rendered in fantastic detail and excellent proportion, no small feat for a book full of anthropomorphized animals.
The two page spread of Johnny’s walk through the aftermath of the previous night’s wake is expertly laid out, mashing together the two realities he’s currently experiencing. It’s alarming in its detail, down to the unattended child sitting cross legged in front of the television, quietly eating cereal as the destruction of the party lies all around, naked bodies and drugs strewn about, looking like its own kind of war zone. The trips alternate from panel to panel, Johnny’s hallucinations bleeding into his reality, which works so well in this medium. We get only a single scene at a time in each scenario. Although it’s delivered in a linear manner, the reader is given all the images to process and reprocess, allowing the entire scenario to have a greater impact. The killing field scene in Johnny’s flashback as he awakens is another great example of this, and we experience his terror in a first person point of view.
Keller is clearly having a blast writing this series, pushing deeper into the most outrageous corners of genre exploitation. The dialogue hits all the right notes and the pacing between the flashbacks and the present day action is expertly crafted. Unlike some of his hilarious underground work, this book feels a bit more thought out with a greater plan behind the project. The characters all have unique voices and the exchanges are highly entertaining. Every detail of this series is pitch perfect for what it is trying to be; there was clearly a lot of loving research that went down prior to pens hitting pages.
I am thrilled that this book exists. It’s understandable that this material may not be for everyone and the book relishes in that fact. Much like the characters it depicts, “The Humans” is exactly what it wants to be, opinions of others be damned. Though this is a continuation of a larger narrative, it’s an easy jumping in point and I enthusiastically recommend “The Humans” #3.