Victor Lavalle sets the stage for a triple threat match no one ever knew we needed. The Bride versus Frankenstein’s Monster versus his great, great, great, great grandson (sort of). Ring the bell. Touch gloves. Let’s get it on!
Victor Lavalle’s Destroyer #4
Written by Victor Lavalle
Illustrated by Dietrich Smith
Colored by Joana LaFuente
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Akai and the Monster feud over the fate of the new Dr. Frankenstein, Josephine Baker. But just outside the remote Montana cabin, sinister forces arrive to eradicate any survivors of the battle…
At its zenith, speculative fiction prefers idea over spectacle. When on the darker side of the spectrum, those central conceits get dragged through the muck to a logical end that’s either fantastically horrific or horrifically fantastic. And by showing us the world through its black mirror darkly, the best speculative fiction worms its way inside with the type of slow-burn unease that wakes you at 3:57 in the early morning like a nauseous gut-punch. There may be bombast, bomb blasts and the like – some might even be essential to the story. But these pyrotechnics always serve the central ideas, and not the other way around.
That’s partly why it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed by “Victor Lavalle’s Destroyer” #4. The preceding three issues served up money shot after money shot of Dietrich Smith’s clinically precise and surgically grotesque take on the Monster. But this bloody revelry always seemed to play counterpoint to the myriad threads paying out in Josephine Baker’s half of the narrative. The Monster had that spirit of vengeance, force of nature quality – like Anton Chigurh as a patchwork quilt of reanimated flesh and slightly better hair – that juxtaposed so violently to the Ellis-ian field of nightmares that Lavalle set us out to pasture in. The effect was a chilling and ever-prescient evisceration of modern scientific hubris, racism, environmental issues, and whatever other upturned knife was sitting in Lavalle’s kitchen sink. There was a distinct sense of the Monster as Lavalle himself lashing out.
But the clash between the Monster and Akai feels flat in comparison. There should have been carnage and chaos. There could have been a head-on ethical car crash between the arcane sciences and nano-tech enhancement, the price and payment for hubris versus the price and payment of heartsick agony. Divorced of a direct counterpoint in Josephine’s flashbacks, it feels like a rote conflict. The Monster gets reduced from a bloody ice-storm of wrath to something closer to Jason in one of the double-digit Friday the 13th movies.
For every panel as visceral and sweeping as Smith’s splash of the Monster uppercutting away an arrowhead-shaped swarm of nano-bots controlled by Akai, there are others that look like the storytelling skipped a beat. At one point, Smith and Lavalle cut away to flashback with both combatants caught lunging at each other, mid-air, only to return with a panel showing the monster impaled on some type of spindly steel post in Josephine’s lab. There’s no explanation for what led to this; there’s not even a trail of artistic breadcrumbs that we could logically trace back to where we left the characters. It’s the sort of moment that pulls you out of the book to grasp how we suddenly went from A to Q. And it’s a problem that pops up a couple of times in “Victor Lavalle’s Destoyer” #4.
For the most part though, Dietrich Smith’s sleek lines flow with just the right amount of scuff in just the right places. And when things get a mite more esoteric – the sequence where Dr. Baker guides her employer though newly designed VR-tech that’s controlled by a user’s mind – we’re left with the haunting image of a pumpjack draining the supposed secrets to immortality from a monstrous, stitched-up chest. Equally as effective is the framing of Akai’s father the first time he’s shown. The panel is staggered with a severe dutch angle that draws parallels to Smith’s similar technique for depicting the monster. Foreshadowing, perhaps.
As for Lavalle’s writing, there’s certainly a wealth of material to chew on. “The purpose of most humans since the dawn of time has been one thing only. Cheap labor,” Josephine’s boss tells her midway through their VR headtrip. “All the rest of it – children, love, art – was just to pass the hours until it was time to work again. But we don’t even need human beings for that anymore.”
It goes a bit without saying that an underwhelming misstep in this series is still a cut above loads of other titles out there now. I’m almost of a mind to think that “Victor Lavalle’s Destroyer’ #4 only feels like a let down because of the striking upward trajectory of the first three. But the missteps are real – some confusing story construction here; weaker than expected literal and graphic juxtaposition there. However, I’ve no qualms in believing this series can lurch back into rhythm when it takes it’s next step.
Final Verdict 7.0 – I’m calling it now: at 3:57 this morning, I’m waking up uneasily to that image of an oil jack pumping the life out of Frankenstein’s monster. Thanks Victor…Thanks Dietrich…