…And sometimes evil is doing nothing in the face of atrocity.
I love my cat. This may not be a surprise statement to those who know me, but the thought of anything cruel or painful happening to him will make me cry without hesitation. What about other animals though? How often have I connected those feelings I have for my kitty with other animals? Do I often consider how other animals are suffering, maybe in my own neighborhood? Sure, I can donate money to PETA or ASPCA or animal shelters, but have I ever really done anything to stop animal abuse? And have I ever really put serious thought into how animals are treated in a larger cultural context? These are questions I asked myself as I worked through the third release from Black Mask Studios, “Liberator #1,” which is one of the most compassionate comics I have read this year. Its straightforward narrative simplicity balances nicely with complicated questions for the reader concerning animal sentience and definitions of atrocity and liberation to consider.
Our protagonist in this issue is a young man, Guerrero, who works at a coffee shop by day and by night has decided to take action against those whom he can no longer tolerate: animal rights abusers. The narrative proper is told through conversation and good old super-hero inner monologue, and that super-hero foundational structure is what may provide serious appeal for the book. Make no doubt, Liberator IS about a super-hero, someone willing to break the law to stop the advancement of cruelty to creatures that are unable to liberate themselves. Writer and creator Matt Miner, however, is not using the super-hero genre to sensationalize; rather, in this opening chapter he uses the idea of a super-hero to lay out an animal rights ideology an back it up with arguments of animal rights activists (super-heroes in their own right) in short essays to close out the issue raising awareness of animal sentience, Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), and links to provide further education if you wish to read more.
So what is a liberator? Is it a vigilante, an anarchist, or a terrorist? Rarely do comic books challenge the reader to consider the point of the title, to think about the possibilities or challenges that can be presented. But Miner makes sure to not let you rest, pushing the idea of liberation as a term in need of clarification. I liked that the discussion raised in the comic comes around to a point that to be a liberator is not necessarily about extreme actions. The first essay after the story by Sheen and Kelly point out that liberation is an act “only carried out by love and compassion.” Like all good heroic ideas, Liberator is a fantasy that wants to raise awareness through embracing your compassion, and that can lead to further action by others.
The art duties on the book, handled by Javier Sanchez Aranda on pen and ink and Joaquin Pereyra providing colors, serve as straight forward and no frills, but that doesn’t dampen the entertainment value nor the pace of the storytelling. Miner and company show a great comics narrative pace as it moves crisply and a moment is never wasted on anything that feels un-necessary or heavy handed. It is the very straightforward, stripped down nature of Liberator that gives an honesty that can hit you with an unsuspecting emotional reaction.
There are a couple of subplots planted in “Liberator #1,” but those can be discussed as this four issue mini-series rolls along in the next few months. For this first issue I just want to make sure to point out that Liberator is working on two levels successfully. First, it supports a firm stance on animal rights, and in subsequent installments I have no doubt that the issues raised (and some scenarios in the story) will become more difficult to read and see for those of us who are ignorant (and I include myself in that as I only have surface awareness of the breadth of the problem) of the animal rights atrocities Miner is trying to shed light upon. On another level, this is not a comic that alienates comics fans, in fact, I think it is one of the better, straightforward comics I have read recently that purely entertains and makes you feel like you just read about a hero, a tangible hero. And with enough fake flights and tights fantasies on the shelf, this one about someone grounded and passionate sounds like a better option to me.