May 16th, 2009

Ew! Gross!

Shoo, Rat, Don't Bother Me

You guys, the other night there was a rat in my apartment. Not a dead rat, but a live one. Zipping across my floor and under my couch one second and then, later on, sauntering back into the heater from whence it came, which has now been barricaded.

Which was terribly ironic because I've been reading The Exterminators, by Simon Oliver, which is about the guys we call to get rid of these pests. Rats, roaches, wasps, termites—the exterminators protect us. These exterminators, however, are protecting us from something even more sinister: THE FUCKING APOCALYPSE.

Henry James, ex-con, begins working at his stepdad's extermination company, Bug-Bee-Gone. Henry is relatively normal, our viewpoint character, but do you want to bet his co-workers are really quirky? THEY ARE! A.J., his training partner, is a lascivious, rat-faced little fucker who has a little drug addiction. Stretch is a black Buddhist cowboy who starts out speaking mostly in Zen but becomes one of the series' best characters. Kevin is a strange, ant-eating dude whose nightlife activities will amuse and/or shock you. Dr. Saloth Sar is a tiny Cambodian man with a mysterious past who performs Nobel-quality bug research in the basement.

Henry is dating a hot redhead named Laura, who works at Ocran Industries, the company that manufactures Draxx, the top-of-the-line roach poison Bug-Bee-Gone (and most everyone else) uses. He later meets Page, a bespectacled brunette who works at a literary whorehouse (where you come to live out your literary fantasies), and Gloria Perez, a single mother who has some bug problems.

All of these characters become caught up in, uh, well, the apocalypse. By GIANT COCKROACHES. There's a lot of Egyptian mythology and an ominous green scarab and a mysterious box that requires four keys to open. Also, corporate conspiracy! Let's just say Ocran and Draxx aren't all they're cracked up to be.

The artist for the majority of the run is Tony Moore, who really impressed me with the depth of his drawings, which were cartoonish and naturalistic at the same time. And you have to give the man props for being able to draw so many bugs. Most of the guest artists are good too. And Philip Bond's covers are great.

While I really wanted and expected to love The Exterminators, it never quite clicked for me. Granted, I loved all the apocalypse stuff—and I love how apocalyptic fiction gets so much more awesome when the apocalypse nears—and the corporate conspiracy stuff was also intriguing, but I didn't feel a strong attachment to the characters. Also, it's really gross. If you're squeamish about bugs and gore, this is not the comic for you. There was something about the tone of the series that I just didn't get, I suppose. From interviews with Oliver, it seems like he enjoyed being all over the place with the tone (exploding a hamster on one page and having a serious discussion of relationship issues on the next), but that didn't work for me, I guess.

The series is fun overall, however. I did really like it for the most part, and I thought it was an interesting sort of meditation on one of the Big Questions: do we, as a society, deserve to survive? What have we done worth keeping us around on this planet? Why shouldn't Mother Nature just reclaim her land? In the eternal battle of man vs. bug...who should we really be rooting for?