It should be noted, before I begin as discussion of “Critical Hit” #2, that I come from a place where schools are closed on the first day of squirrel hunting season (Locally known as “Squirrel Day.” There’s a cook-off later in the season, too. You should go on down, tell’em I sent ya). Expectant mothers are given camouflage layettes in green for boys and green with pink accents for girls. I have never been much for outdoor sports, but virtually everyone I am related to takes part in them with near religious fervor. Miner and Sawyer manage to make me forget all that and root for the people who see those types as villains in their incredibly persuasive series “Critical Hit”.
Written by Matt Miner
Illustrated by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
The animal rescuing heroines from Matt Miner’s LIBERATOR series get in over their heads when their attempts to stop a group of hunters turns them into the hunted.
This new series follows a group of animal rights activists as they confront a murderous hunting party. The hip young activists will stop at nothing to protect animals, putting their own lives on the line to do so. High stakes drive this story with a cause at its heart. There is a moral grey area that serves as the emotional intellectual setting for Miner and Sawyer’s story. If readers can be persuaded of the righteousness of the group’s cause, acts of small-scale terrorism committed by the group including such infractions as vandalism, theft, destruction of private property, breaking and entering and more can be forgiven, if not supported. Looking at this comic book as a persuasive argument creates an interesting way of interpreting the text.
Miner and Sawyer find a way to sell the idea that threats to animals as believable threats to humans. For example, a scene in which Sarah and Jeanette raid a fireworks store to free pit bulls from a dog fighting operation, tools used to treat the dogs‘ injuries and keep them fighting are visible. These tools directly mirror hunters‘ tools used later in this issue. Sarah and Jeanette are imprisoned in a portable storage unit which holds implements used to skin and clean game become implements of torture in the hands of the deranged hunting party. Just as the tools in the fireworks store are used to harm the dogs or persuade the dogs to harm one another, these tools are repurposed and used in similar ways on humans. Like the dogs, Sarah and Jeanette are kept alive and almost encouraged to fight back. Sadism is the only explanation that might serve as a reason why the women are not immediately killed after their capture. Their abduction becomes its own kind of sport for the hunters.
This serves as a connector between sport hunting and harming human beings. Miner and Sawyer lead the audience to see the escalation from shooting a deer and beating a woman almost to death as natural and believable. To their credit, Miner and Sawyer make that mental leap effortless, we’ve made it before we have a moment to question the feasibility of this idea. We are willing to see there hunters as evil, and all of their actions, even hunting animals, seem evil by association. They make the creators imbed the message that hunters are murderers into the plot of this comic so completely that there does not even seem to be room for an argument.
The creative team takes great care to convince us of the maliciousness of the hunting party. They are less human than the animals that they hunt, or that Sarah and Jeanette rescue. These men (and the one awful woman who accompanies them) are purely predatory. Even the most human among them, a man who seems to take pity on the protagonists mixes his acts of compassion with violence. Aside from this guy’s efforts to keep the women alive, there is nothing redeeming about any of these characters. We are asked to believe that these people’s consciences went the way of the forks in their family trees. Its not difficult to believe that these people are savages who would relish the opportunity to play General Zaroff and hunt human beings for fun. They are an equal threat to animals and humans. This idea strengthens the argument for the cause of animal rights at the heart of this story.Continued below
Every bit of care that went into developing the subhuman goons of the hunting party is applied to the very human portrayals of the protagonists. Each character has realistic emotional baggage, and a personal history that seems relevant and believable. Miner does not shy away from giving his characters flaws. He does not present these activists as infallible heroes, instead he continues to explore moral ambiguity through their development. His characters make mistakes and bad decisions and sometimes say the wrong thing. The are not all likable, and those that are aren’t consistently so. One example of this kind of nuanced characterization is evident in the relationship between Jeanette and her boyfriend, Daniel. Daniel struggles with an addiction to pills. Ignoring the fact that her own father lived with and died from a substance abuse problem, Jeanette allows the relationship to continue. We see that Jeanette does not always make the best decisions and that Daniel is deeply flawed. These shortcomings only add to the character’s humanity and the audience’s ability to relate to them.
Sawyer illustrates the story with the same care and attention to detail that is evident in Miner’s writing. He illustrates each scene with clean, clear articulate lines. The precision of Sawyer’s work continues through character work. He captures expression with deft skill. His depiction of the pit bull is a testament to his incredible ability to depict emotion. Sarah and Jeanette’s faces are almost completely covered for the duration of that scene. However, the protagonists communicate clearly using only their eyes. Sawyer is equally adept at illustrating subtle emotion and high impact action. The last page of this issue is one example at the way Sawyer uses gore and violence to create the greatest possible emotional impact. Showing not just the brutality of the hunter beating Sarah senseless, but the reactions and consequences of those actions for the character and for Jeanette as she looks on helplessly, Sawyer makes the event significant for the story. Garbark’s colors bring another level of skill to the book and elevate Sawyer’s work. His palettes are scene specific, giving each event its own tone and voice.
The success of this series is almost completely focused on the details. There are no plot holes, or set-ups that don’t come to fruition. The incredible commitment to the follow through makes the story very persuasive.
Final Verdict: 7.9 – A compelling argument for a cause in the form of a comic book.