Over the years, alcoholism has, amongst other things, lead to a lot of poetically savage imagery in storytelling. Charles Bukowski almost certainly wouldn't have had much of a career without it. Frankly, the demon alcohol is a subject that's perpetually ready to be explored, so it's constantly being brought up in all forms of storytelling.
Michael Avon Oeming, who is suddenly as prolific as a comic book creator can be right now, takes his turn with the subject matter in Wild Rover, a one-shot story that was originally published in the Dark Horse Presents anthology. Here, Oeming completely immerses his story tonally in matters of despair and alienation. His protagonist Shane is a hopeless captive of his addiction, and he goes through all of the hallmarks of self-destructive behavior. His drinking causes him to lay in bed for hours at the beginning of the day, and when he does get his ass out of bed, he compulsively engages in the very behavior he knows is eating away at any virtue he might have left. He doesn't even try to change things in his life, so complete is his sense of defeat.
Visually, Oeming renders the story in his trademark style that boasts the angular linework, deep spotted blacks, and distorted environments that are always evocative of mood and tone. In Wild Rover, Oeming uses them to reinforce the foreboding and dread and utter misery the story resides in. The beast that needs to be fed and which lives in Shane's gut is a grotesquerie that's given physical form, and it must be one of the most horrifying things Oeming has ever conceived of. It's tough to even look at, in the way that a stultifying truth about oneself is hard to face. The monsters and demons that are given physical form in Wild Rover are all pretty disgusting, but they really make the story what it is. Wild Rover isn't a story that would succeed without following through on its convictions, so Oeming has to go all in. Where Oeming departs a bit from the style he's known for in books like Powers and Victories is his page designs. He relies less on a panel structure for his pages, and opens up the storytelling so far that he takes on more of a collage aesthetic. This reinforces the tone of the story by illustrating the fact that there are always monsters, and that the frightening demons out there take on many forms and come from all sides.
Eventually, the story does take us to a more definitively supernatural place, with a lot of business about prophecies passed down (much like alcoholism, actually) through generations and the role of family in a dark nightmare of a life. What's intentionally left ambiguous is whether the monsters Shane has to fight are real, and he's really communicating with his dead mother, or if he's finally fleeing into madness, unconsciously giving his life meaning where none can really exist. Wild Rover comes from a dark gnosticism that will be difficult to read, but it's personal and resonant, not to mention how shockingly relatable it is. As if that wasn't enough, Oeming and Dark Horse also include a second story, which also appeared in Dark Horse Presents, called The Sacrifice, a type of Viking fairy tale with wonderful art by Victor Santos that at first seems like a fable about perseverance and destiny, but then takes a dark turn and piles on even more despair. The one-shot comic featuring both Wild Rover and The Sacrifice is a complex and exceptionally-crafted comic. Just be sure to watch a Pixar movie or something afterwards.
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