The Webcomic Overlook #152: ReMIND
Most of us remember Shel Silverstein as the author and the illustrator of The Giving Tree. It’s the book that convinced millions of children that the boy was a jerk for using up the whole tree without giving anything in return, only to realize that, when they got older, they were in fact the little boy and the tree represented their parents. His simple little tale was simultaneously rewarding and traumatic, and likely launched more than one graduate level humanities theses.
However, most people don’t remember Shel Silverstein as also being a songwriter. I know it totally blew my mind when I found out that Johnny Cash’s hit song, “A Boy Named Sue,” was written by none other than Shel Silverstein. I mean, seriously, THE Shel Silverstein? Aw, hell naw! But it’s true: ol’ Shel wrote the whimsical lyrics to the song that made the denizens of Folsom Prison squeal in delight.
While we sometimes think that songwriting and the illustrated arts are two different creatures, there is an anthropological link. They are, after all, based on two of the most ancient artistic traditions. Hell, cavemen probably embellished their wall-drawn adventures with some bomb-ass tribal chants. So, when the Let’s Be Friends Again guys say that they’re forming an alliance with nerd rapper Adam War Rock, it sorta makes sense once you overcome the initial skepticism.
In his FAQ, Jason Brubaker mentions that his webcom- … I’m sorry, online graphic novel reMIND started as funny song. It would be interesting to hear that song, especially since it probably had something to do with steampunk inventions, anthropomorphic cats, and a secret race of lizard people. Not something Johnny Cash would sing to win over hardened criminals, but fun nonetheless.
So what is reMIND about? Well, dear reader, everything you need to know iss right there in the title. The first has to do with memory and remembering. However, notice that the “MIND” portion of the title is in all caps. That’s because reMIND is also about mad science … the kind where you take someone’s brain and put it into a big robot, a Frankenstein’s monster, or, in this case, a mangy cat.
Sonja, our heroine, is reminiscent of Brandy Carter from Liberty Meadows. She’s young, she’s attractive, and she hangs around some really goofy-looking animals. She’s the keeper of a very steampunk-y lighthouse, which seems to generate wattage through a built-in wind power generator. Using a lighthouse as a setting gives Brubaker a nice enough excuse to illustrate spreads of the lush, picturesque scenery, where a lonely pocket of civilization meets the harsh beauty or nature. Mr. Brubaker adeptly illustrates both feminine and natural beauty in delicate lines and washed out watercolors, which does a good job in capturing your attention during the rather slow, exposition-filled opening.
The lighthouse overlooks the nearby town of Cripple Peaks, whose local economy is heavily Lizard Man-based. The Lizard Man is something like The Loch Ness Monster or Champ of Lake Champlain or Big Blue from the “Quagmire” episode of X-Files: a creature whose very legend bring in some tourism money. Sonja is pretty skeptical of The Lizard Man’s existence, but she’s a little conflicted since the man who started the legend was her own dearly departed dad.
One day, her cat, Victuals, disappears. She gave him up for dead, until one day she drags his barely alive body out of the water. It doesn’t take long for Sonja to discover that there’s something … different about her cat. I mean, he’s drawn cartoonier than everyone else in the comic, but that was true even before he supposedly drowned. But there are other differences. Victuals can now walk on two feet, speak English, and has an unquenchable craving for lasagna. (OK, that last part doesn’t happen.)
Victuals tells Sonja that he’s not really her cat. Rather, he’s a Lizard Man … not THE Lizard Man, as Sonja was lead to believe, but one of a race of lizard people who aren’t so make-believe after all. In fact, he used to be an disturbingly buff lizard man who was once betrothed to the princess of the lizards, except that a vengeful god named Nahusthan (also known as The Invisible) had cast his soul into the body of a lesser creature. Namely, Sonja’s cat.
Despite the story sounding somewhat embellished (“Really! I was once a super-muscular prince-to-be from a race of mythical creatures!”), Sonja takes his story at face value. Why would a talking cat lie to her?
Now, I understand the whole “with evidence, reason defeats blind superstition” thing. Only… a picture of Sonja’s father standing next to a carving that was placed atop his gravestone? THAT’S the proof Victuals needs to realize his whole belief system is a lie? I mean, I can come up with literally a hundred different reasons how Victuals can reconcile his doctrine with the evidence in front of him.
For example: how does he know what Nahusthan looks like in the first place? Was it because there are graven images made of Nahusthan? If so, isn’t it possible that Sonja’s dad somehow caught a glimpse of one of those graven images and made a replica? I mean, it’s not like the picture depicts her dad with a flesh-a-blood Nahusthan… just a statue. And how does Victuals know that Sonja’s on the level, anyway? She’s from a completely different culture and race. I mean her own people think that lizard-folk are some sort of myth! So couldn’t that mean that other myths inherent to the lizard-belief system be real? I just find it implausible that Victuals would be so quick to dismiss the possibility that Nahusthan is, in fact, some sort of diety.
But nope, instead it’s straight to “Well, looks like God is a lie. Where’s that robot suit?” The entire sequence just seemed unrealistic and far too convenient, which is a problem because, according to the “About” page, this is “a mystical, sci-fi about faith, love and brain transplantation.” The “love” and “brain transplantation,” I get. It’s just I find the “faith” part of the equation to be muddled and unconvincing.
Anyway, before you can say “Sufferin’ succotash!” Victuals (he sticks to referring to himself by Sonja’s cat’s name, by the way) returns to the land of lizards by way of a modified suit that Sonja’s dad had built to peek into the hidden lives of the lizard people. The rest of the comic is about Victuals totally owning the lizards with the power of his nifty Iron Man power armor analogue. He discovers that experiments have been going on with brains being transplanted into new bodies. Some are now in the bodies of dogs, bunnies, and other little critters. Victuals discovers that his original body is in cold storage somewhere.
reMIND is worth checking out for the illustrations alone. The adventures in the lizard world gives Mr. Brubaker to switch up his style a little. Comfortable outdoors scenes from earlier pages make way for pipe-lined metallic corridors and vast underwater seascapes that will likely give you agoraphobia. The colors shift, too, going from a the warm and pleasant yellow-and-light-green palette to harsher reds, purples, and blues.
Which is kind of a shame that I thought the plot and the characterization to be a little thin. I found it very hard to be sympathetic toward Victuals. We learn very little about him, other than he used to be a lizard with muscles upon muscles. His quest — while being of the standard “long lost hero returns to his homeland” variety — doesn’t strike me as being very urgent or emotional. Bottom line: I just don’t care about Victuals. I don’t care if he returns to his body. I don’t care if he ever gets back with his lady love. I don’t care if he upends society by exposing how they’re run by a false god. Victuals is just so … uninteresting.
It may have been a misstep to spend so much time early in the comic with Sonja. Her background, is also somewhat undercooked. However, and perhaps this is my human bias talking, I found her easier to relate to than the cat with the lizard brain. Like that Red Letter Media guy with the mumbly voice once said in his review of The Phantom Menace, “Post on my webzone and I’ll send you a pizza roll.” But also something about having a naive character who needs to have the weirdness of the world explained to him really works well in the sci-fi, fantasy, and action genres. This character is a stand-in for the reader, and when the world is explained to him, it’s also explained to us.
It was working in the first chapter. However, by the time Chapter 3 rolls around, she more or less disappears from the narrative. I have a feeling this graphic novel would have been more compelling if she’d accompanied Victuals down to the lizard kingdom, and we saw their world, once regarded as a myth, unfold through her eyes. Alas, she does not, and the adventures in lizard land are stripped of potential awe. Quelle dommage.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on February 10, 2011, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, fantasy webcomic, funny animal webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.