Tini Howard and Nick Robles’ Euthanuats #1 first caught my attention weeks ago with its title and cover. In tandem, the two evoke thoughts of a woman journeying through death, body withered to bones as her head and mind are protected by a glass bauble, one that glows with life and attracts insects like a light bulb. My interest was bolstered further by the books presence on IDW’s imprint, Black Crown, from former long-time Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. I’ve enjoyed all Black Crown offerings (more here), but it was another book by Howard that really stood out to me: Assassinistas, a collaboration with the legendary Gilbert Hernandez that applies complex modern family dynamics to an archetypal femme fatale death squad.
Whereas Assassinistas is more of a character study, one laced with appropriate bits of humor and modest bouts of action, Euthanuats is better-described as an abstract and surreal walk through our fears, expectations and attitudes around death. Our protagonist is an alienated receptionist who works in a funeral home and is dissatisfied with her life and friendships. For the first two-thirds of the book, the story grounds us in this struggle, functioning well as a slice-of-life comic.
Howard’s characterization is strong, with effective interior monologue lines like, “I was thinking about how weird it is that I don’t like my friends and they don’t really like me—when I first saw her…”, as well as snappy character banter, such as, “It’s like, communism works just fine, you just have to really, really likeable.” Robles art is also wonderful, detailed and realistic, glazed over with a fitting color palette that manages to be forlorn without tipping into morbid or noir.
It is, however, the plot point that catapults us into the third act that really establishes this book as something special. Not to give too much away, but reality blurs into a world of ethereal surrealism, seemingly a realm of death, or near death. It's unclear, and the book makes a wise decision to keep readers disoriented. I’ve been reading comics for two decades and change, and as such I’ve seen an excessive number of visual depictions of death, limbo, the afterlife, etc. I’ve rarely seen one as intriguing as in Euthanuats, which I take as a testament to both the imagination and research that went into this story.
This has already been a fantastic year for comics as unfettered explorations of nigh-universal fears, concerns, or hang ups (see Eternity Girl, Mister Miracle, and several inward-facing horror books), but Euthanauts charges headlong at the most towering concern of all—death—and emerges with a fascinating and beautifully-told story. I barely have a guess for where this book is headed next, and I love that.
Overall: Engrossing and complex, Euthanauts is the best book yet from former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint, Black Crown. Howard’s script dives confidentiality into a universal concern—death—as Robles' ethereal visuals blur reality. An intriguing and gorgeous comic, this one is highly recommended. 9.0/10
Euthanauts #1 is out July 18. Learn more about it here!
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.