Kid Lobotomy #1 is the launch title to IDW Publishing’s new Black Crown imprint spearheaded by ex-Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. It is even written by Vertigo alumni Peter Milligan. The book certainly reads like many of the imprint’s flagship titles: familiar genre tropes subverted, an emphasis on dramatic build up over instant gratification, grimy atmosphere, and references to non-comic book arts. Kid Lobotomy is attempting to be an audacious debut. The result is a mixed bag.
The art of Kid Lobotomy is by indie superstar Tess Fowler and industry veteran Lee Loughridge. Fowler gives the book a DIY, punk aesthetic. Characters and environments look rough and grimy. Fowler also shows to be more than capable of drawing horror scenes, mostly larger-than-life insects and humans transforming into ghastly ghouls. Lettering by Aditya Bidikar highlights the intensity of these scenes with striking lettering. Lee Loughridge adds gritty, yet almost neon colors to the art. A common criticism of the early Vertigo books were their constant use of a grainy coloring scheme that made scenes limited in their palettes. However, given the weird, perturbing story Kid Lobotomy is telling, it fits here like a glove. Fowler and Loughridge combined is like a low-budget, artsy grindhouse film, particularly for fans of Subconscious Cruelty (2000) and We Are The Flesh (2016).
Fowler uniquely designs each character that still share a particular fashion. They have piercings, detailed tattoos, unconventional clothing, and dyed hair with outlandish designs. These are recognizable in various youth groups, particularly those with an emphasis on art, music, and rebellion. It’s a welcoming modern look to a medium where many artists seem unaware of how much fashion has changed. It also works perfectly for Peter Milligan’s writing. He often focuses stories about characters from unique subcultures, referencing their literature, music, film, and other arts. However, in Kid Lobotomy, Milligan sticks to older subculture icons such as Franz Kafka and Derek Jarman. While they’re certainly influences on many modern artists, the lack of references to any of said artists is confusing. What about Screaming Females? The Safdie Brothers? Certainly Milligan can mix what is going on now with what came before. Otherwise, having characters that look modern but only reference 20th-century arts is disingenuous.
The story itself is, also quite typical of Vertigo, a genre mash-up. In every advertisement of Kid Lobotomy thus far, it is described as a combination of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Like King Lear, the title character is a young man being forced to take over his father’s kingdom except it’s a hotel called the Suites. The elements from Kafka involve giant bugs, mental illness, and metaphors of isolation. There also seems to be a Dexter element going on in which Kid Lobotomy literally performs “new lobotomy” on people to eat the unwanted part of their brains to control his schizophrenic illusions.
The genre mashing, while amusing, doesn’t seem to have a real purpose. A bunch of ideas are introduced, but none of them paint a whole canvas of exactly what Kid Lobotomy is about. Is it a tale of mental illness? Crime? Family drama? Preacher, The Unwritten, and The Sandman are all titles that similarly mash genre together but have a pretty clear picture of what their major themes are. At the moment, Kid Lobotomy does not. It struggles to do a proper introduction of the various story elements and expanding them enough to have a clear, precise goal of what it wants to say. This is the opposite of Peter Milligan’s past work, such as Greek Street where the combination of Greek tragedy and crime drama clearly told a story about how history repeats itself.
The struggle might stem from the unnecessarily convoluted story structure Milligan employs. Kid Lobotomy #1 starts off with a dream sequence, then to where the story is presently, then a flashback, then the series of event that lead to the present, and a few more scenes afterward. That doesn’t sound hard to follow, but Milligan’s narration is all over the place, uneven in how much exposition to drop or keep vague. It reflects a bad habit from Vertigo of stories trying too hard to be clever and becoming confusing for the reader. It’s not bad to challenge a reader to understand the meaning of a story, but they should still have an intuition of what it’s about and learn more by critically thinking. Confusion should not be a tool as such to induce this type of reading because it can prevent an intuitive spark.
What saves Kid Lobotomy’s narrative are the characters. On the surface, the core three characters seem stockish: Big Daddy, the shrewd, “family comes first” father figure; Rosebud, the femme fatale; and Kid Lobotomy, the rebellious young son that wants to be a unique individual. There are unique quirks to each of them. Despite his appearance, Big Daddy doesn’t seem all that bad. He’s more shrewd than cruel, insisting that having responsibility over the hotel will help Kid with his mental illness. In fact, Big Daddy clearly cares about his son to the point he spent a lot of money to save him. His flaw is in not realizing how much Rosebud feels neglected, not to mention ignoring the fact she is by far more qualified to run the hotel.
Rosebud is quite manipulative, her mission being to drive Kid even crazier so she can take over the hotel. It’s hard to really hate her given how much she has been loyal and helpful to her father. Kid suddenly getting the hotel despite all Rosebud’s hard work is a major blow to her. She at least has a clear motivation beyond evil for the sake of it. Kid Lobotomy isn’t a selfish, annoying manchild as often is the case. Yes, he did drop out of med school to pursue a doomed career in music, but he doesn’t seem to hate his family. Also, he is oddly well read and his obsession with Kafka helps him contextualize his mental illness in order to deal with it. There is also incestual tension between him and Rosebud, often leading to sex acts such as a handjob. From the looks of it, Rosebud is dominating Kid, something he sometimes resists and other times embraces. This will no doubt be the most problematic element of the story, and hopefully Milligan will have good enough sense to at least keep it appropriately complicated. There are several other side characters, but the only two that stand out are a shape-shifting maid and two little girl ghosts. It’s hard to pin point them as characters given they’re either background or just reacting in ways that push forward Kid’s journey.
Two final nitpicks are that Milligan should write a little less dialogue and narration. Fowler and Loughridge’s art is strong enough to visually communicate information to the reader. The cover by Frank Quitely, which good for what it is, is too clean and realistic for the interiors’ gritty punk style. Also, while it is impressive the title logo has a 3D look, it is rather distracting and feels dated, something from a 90s action flick. On the Tess Fowler cover, it is completely out of place for her style.
Kid Lobotomy #1 is a mixed bag of a debut issue. It is visually strong while containing a potentially engaging narrative bogged down by flaws of pacing and development. There is still room for improvement next issue as ideas and characters are expanded upon. At the very least, Kid Lobotomy #1 shows that Black Crown publishing aims for comics that critically engage the reader.
Story: Peter Milligan Art: Tess Fowler, Lee Loughridge, Aditya Bidikar
Story: 7.0 Art: 10 Overall: 8.0
IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review