“Man’s Best” #1

By | March 22nd, 2024
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

On a ship in the far reaches of space, scientists are searching for a distant planet to extend the life of humankind. Mild Spoilers Ahead

Cover by Jesse Lonergan

Written by Pornsak Pichetshote
Illustrated Colored by Jesse Lonergan
Lettered by Jeff Powell

It is the distant future; humankind is on the trajectory we are expecting; it is on the verge of collapse and extinction. Scientists on a starship in deep space are working on various experiments and heading towards a planet to possibly colonize. A clashing of ideas between the idealists and the capitalists has led us here. The main experiment, or at least the one that this series is focusing on, is that of two dogs and a cat who are given weaponized power suits, seemingly to help protect the crew. There is real mystery to every aspect of this story and even after the turn of the final page, nothing has been made completely clear.

Across social media posts, other reviews, and even Pornsak Pichetshote’s author’s note, there are already countless references to the film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) and while there are the clear connections of the three animals who speak to each other, while the humans around them just hear normal animal sounds, that is where the similarities start and end. So, I figured I would get that right out of the way. Pichetshote’s (“Swamp Thing”) script calls back to template storytelling of all kinds, most notably the classic heroes’ journey and B movies. Right from the first page he brings some purposefully cliché opening lines and plot set up, and plopping the reader right down in the middle of this bizarre yet almost immediately relatable story. What could feel like a very bleak and truly horrifying concept is kept somewhat soft and actually enjoyable. The idea of animals, and animals who are commonly pets, being experimented on and turned into living weapons is a nightmare concept and something that should make anyone, not just extreme animal lovers, feel a pang in their heart and gut just thinking about it. In the simplest terms this is just an allegory for any sort of animal testing; whether it be something trivial like cosmetic testing, or things like medical or military applications.

The ideas at play here, both before and after reading this first issue, immediately brought to mind Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s bleak and unbelievably heartbreaking Vertigo comic, “We3.” That is a very similar concept to this, so much so that at first glance it was surprising to me that something like “Man’s Best” could exist without plagiarism allegations getting thrown around. Also, another story that is still somewhat in the forefront of comic book fans’ minds: the original 1985 “Rocket Raccoon” miniseries by Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola, which was a major influence on last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. I can only assume that the rest of the story plays out in such a different manner that this story justifies its existence outside of these other comics. The script gives plenty of agency, even with their clashing personalities and insecurities, to these three animals. It is almost impossible to get out of this first issue without loving these animals, even Lovey.

While Pichetshote essentially writes all sympathetic characters in this and does a wonderful job of giving life to multiple archetypes, it is Jess Lonergan’s (“Miss Truesdale and the Fall of Hyperborea”) artwork that brings a softness and full-hearted emotion to the entire book. His overall style is a blending of 1980s anime and any number of sci-fi/fantasy comics. The softness of the lines and even the colors is so welcoming and wonderful. For as terrible as this future seems on the whole, the art makes you want to slip right into it like a warm bath. While his talent to give everything a true sense of life and beauty is evident throughout, he is never afraid to play fast and loose with some of the line work. This allows the book to weave in and out of its peak realism and uneven or messy detailing; giving the entire issue a sense of emotional purpose rather than simply sticking to how you think any number of panels or pages should look. I appreciated the swings the art took in that regard, especially when it took me back to watching a lot of weird sci-fi anime films as a teen. Keep things weird, keep them fresh, if still familiar, and the reader will always be engaged, no matter what their final opinion is of the style. Jeff Powell brings a similar loose and mildly chaotic energy to the lettering. It all shifts based on emotion, spoken or thought words, and the energy of the story in any particular moment. He also co-designed the look of the book with Grace Park, which has a living, breathing, but stoic look that allows things to feel contained while making the art move as the script intended. It’s a really stunning book that makes me nostalgic for sci-fi and fantasy from my youth, and even before my time. A beautiful and ever so slightly haunting sci-fi fable, “Man’s Best” #1 will have you in its clutches instantly

Final Verdict: 8.5, Beautifully crafted and wonderfully told, “Man’s Best” #1 is bringing a lot that should and could appeal to readers of all kinds, but it’s going to have to do a little more to really get out ahead of its inspirations.

Christopher Egan

Chris lives in New Jersey with his wife, daughter, two cats, and ever-growing comic book and film collection. He is an occasional guest on various podcasts, writes movie reviews on his own time, and enjoys trying new foods. He can be found on Instagram. if you want to see pictures of all that and more!