I’ve seen some wild shit in my time as a comics critic, but for sheer conceptual bravado, few things can match Ukrainian cartoonist Andrew Zakolodny’s new Strangers-published surreal mindfuck Deadnauts, a combustible admixture of high-concept science fiction, drug-addled paranoia, black humor, militaristic uber-violence, and gross-out body horror — among other things. If you’re even remotely squeamish, this is a book you want less than zero to do with. But, hey, if you’re not —
Well, if you’re not, one of the first things you’ll learn is that the curious term “otherside” in this review’s title is no misprint — it’s a place beyond death, or maybe that should be the place beyond death, and serves as the extra-dimensional battlefield which much of Zakolodny’s story takes place in. We’ve all heard of suicide bombers who believe they’ll live eternally after death, but the terrorists in this yarn know it because they actually go there — or part of them does, at any rate. They’re in possession, you see, of some sort of largely-unexplained (probably because it’s flat-out inexplicable) occult technology that allows them to project their consciousness over to this “otherside” in hopes of affecting some kind of takeover of the place, which sounds to me like it’d be a pretty tough thing to organize any kind of opposition or resistance to — unless, ya know, people are willing to die to go over there and stop them. Good luck getting volunteers for that.
Still, this is comics — since when does logic apply? So, yeah — if you’re getting the idea that “death is just the beginning” here, you’re getting the right idea. Because the otherside is so fucked up that it’s actually enough to make a person — or any sort of life form — wish they were alive again. Yes, even the members of the special forces (or whatever) team that goes over to stop the dastardly terrorists — a team full of individuals who are all technically suicidal by definition. I told you this book was effing crazy.
What I’ll also tell you is that it’s crazy in the best possible way — you’ll never know what’s coming next because you can barely figure out what’s going on right now, and even when you do get something resembling a kind of metaphorical footing, you’ll find it’s ripped out from under you pretty quickly. Zakolodny is a master at not just keep you off-balance, but keeping you off your rocker — if he were a prize fighter, his first punch would be a TKO and he’d pummel you repeatedly after the bell just to make good and sure you didn’t get up off the mat. Your job, then, as a reader, is to learn to enjoy the beating.
Which, believe it or not, isn’t actually all that tough a task. The art in this comic is arresting and addictive, all inky blacks and squiggly lines and imaginative forms and even more imaginative locations — it looks and feels like your worst-ever acid trip committed to paper, only cool. There’s a lot to decipher — both narratively and, especially, visually — but doing so doesn’t feel like work by any stretch, even if it is exceptionally goddamn challenging. I know my readers, though (at least, I like to think I do), and so I know that if you’re not up for a challenge, chances are you’re not paying any attention to this blog in the first place. I mean, who are we kidding? Getting through one of my reviews can sometimes be challenging enough in and of itself.
Is this a qualified recommendation, then? You bet it is. Most are. There are a lot of perfectly rational, nice, fair-minded people who will take one look at Zakolodny’s ‘zine and give it a hard pass. But for those who revel in the refined pleasures of the heretical, the extreme, the foreboding and forbidden — for those who consider “beyond the pale” to be the starting line rather than the off-ramp — this isn’t just memorable, visceral, mind-bending stuff : it’s the kind of comic you live for. Or should that be the kind of comic you die for?
Deadnauts is available for $7.00 from Strangers at https://strangerspublishing.com/products/deadnauts-by-andrew-zakolodny
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