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Review: Kane and Able

Kane and Able

Veteran British cartoonists Shaky Kane and Krent Able perfect the art of the dual artist anthology in the cheekily named (and Biblically blurbed) Kane and Able. The volume consists of two Astonishing Shield Bug! stories from Kane and a Black Fur and Nightmare & Creepy story from Able. Kane’s stories flow together in a Jack Kirby-meets-David Lynch kind of way blurring the lines between fiction and metafiction, reality and unreality while also acting as an opportunity for him to draw cool things like dinosaurs, space women, aliens, the King of Comics, and even himself. Able’s stories have more of a grindhouse, body horror quality to him as a chainsaw-wielding Bear Fur battles a boom box wielding cockroach woman, who flesh bonds everyone in a listless, major city. Nightmare & Creepy is a gory and humorously nihilistic take on the Batman and Robin dynamic and the vigilante genre as a whole with vampires, rad vehicles, and spooky environs. In addition to these four stories, there are ads, contests, and even a letters page that contributes to Kane and Able‘s retro with a modern sense of humor charm.

Shaky Kane really knocks it out of the park with the opening story “The Astonishing Shield Bug!” that starts as a clean-lined, flat colored ode to the strange masked heroes that have entertained and inspired readers and viewers over the decades from The Fly, Dan Garret’s Blue Beetle, and Green Hornet to Jaime Reyes and Miles Morales. However, it evolves into an homage to the imagination of the cartoonist, especially Jack Kirby. Kane welds the historical record of Kirby serving in World War II and working sleepless nights as a writer and artist creating the Marvel Universe to the UFO craze of the 1950s. There’s also a Biblical connection between these extraterrestrials and Kirby like he was Moses taking dictation from Yahweh to write the Ten Commandments and a line of dialogue alluding to the Silver Surfer (And roasting Stan Lee.) builds off the genesis of Fantastic Four‘s Galactus Trilogy, which was “Let them fight God.”

Throughout the story, Shaky Kane’s plot is free-flowing, and he creates images ranging from Americana to the cosmos while also skewering the culture around comic books with a semi-autobiographical page of him at a convention hoping and begging for a smoke break. There’s a self-deprecatory quality to Kane’s visuals in these scenes as he draws himself with a sour expression and wrinkles, but later stories set himself up as one of the great cartoonists of his era. Mundane humanity juxtaposed with far-fetched, imagination-tinged images (Whether of wonder or fear) is a theme that joins Shaky Kane and Krent Able’s work in the anthology even if they have different art styles and approaches to storytelling.

Whereas Kane’s stories are surreal free verse, Able’s are grounded in B-movies and EC and Silver Age superhero comics. Modern elements pop up in both stories, but he laughs off a black armband, day of morning for the titular hero in “Black Fur” or the loss of yet another hapless teen sidekick in “Creepzone feat. Nightmare & Sleepy”. Instead, he leans into the absurdity of genre fiction, turns up the knobs to eleven with memorable images, bold colors, and an eye for the sick and twisted. Instead of facing Godzilla’s nuclear breath, Black Fur and his Chainsaw Dolls must endure the gastric of 10,000 human beings that the Deathroach has absorbed. Able’s visuals carry the story, but his clever captions add a layer of dark humor to the proceedings like the final fates of Black Fur and the Chainsaw Dolls. Like the space aliens and the magic pen of Shaky Kane’s stories, Krent Able understands that the comics medium has no limit and goes for (literal in some cases) face-melting outrageousness in “Black Fur” with poster-worthy panels of Black Fur doing his thing as well as pure body horror when Deathroach does her thing and exposes the conformity of the human condition.

Kane plays off the event of the previous Astonishing Shield Bug story, including a convention sketch done by a fictionalized Shaky Kane in “Dustmotes”, his second story in the anthology. He goes classic Edgar Allan Poe horror with mysterious house, coffins, and floor boards. Plus there are glimpses of a greyscale beyond that let Kane flex his zombie-drawing muscles to go with the superheroes, space people, dinosaurs, and general cosmic haze. “Dustmotes” looks at the darker side of imagination and perhaps even taking aim at nostalgia culture with narrative captions about comic book collections, autographs, and memorabilia. Towards the end of the story, there’s a definitely a feeling of moving onto newer creations and frontiers like the work Shaky Kane and Krent Able. Kane’s art might make dust look like Kirby Krackle, but it’ll make you sneeze instead of imbuing you with the power cosmic or The Source. The final page of the story is in black and white and acts as a reminder that comics are just lines on a page and can be the wellspring of any genre depending on the skill of the artist. Shaky Kane, for his part, transitions really well from sci-fi and superheroes in his first story to psychological horror in his second.

Krent Able also draws on the horror genre in his final story “Creepzone”, but he goes for the buckets of blood, beheading, and cruel deaths facing youths with sexual desire part of his story. Able’s artwork is like a screentone, exploitation movie poster with motion and flow. He pulls off one great page turn surprise that mines the psychosexual subtext of Batman and Robin that Frederic Wertham warned Congress and American families about in the 1950s before returning to severed heads, brain matter, viscera, and the good ol’ fashioned injury to eye motif. “Creepzone” is propelled by the sheer, fucked up nature of its protagonist Nightmare and his iconic mask and skeleton costume. He has a real penchant for doing everything in the showiest way possible with Krent Able spending whole panels on him squashing the heads of baby vampires in reference to his treatment of creepy, copyright friendly Mickey Mouse stand-in’s in a previous adventure. He badly needs therapy, but he’s the perfect character to wrap up Kane and Able.

Kane and Able is a 76 page reminder that comics can be a hell of a fun time. Shaky Kane and Krent Able bring their distinct visual sensibilities to tell over the top genre-melding stories that might have something a little deeper to say about the creative process or the power of comics, or because a bear with two chainsaw wielding babies on his shoulders fighting giant cockroach women in fetish gear will always be epic.

Story: Shaky Kane, Krent Able Art: Shaky Kane, Krent Able
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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