Raised by Squirrels trade paperback
Writers/Artists/Cover artists: Bram Meehan & Monica Banko Meehan
Publisher: Dream Weaver Press
Price: $4.95 US
The first thing that struck me about this book — and the first thing that would make an impact on anyone, I would imagine — is the title. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this indy title, but I imagined it was either a slice-of-life story or some kind of surreal comedy. It turns out it’s neither. Raised by Squirrels is an amalgam of the espionage and super-hero genres. The book gets its title from the name of the government agency that employs and deals with metahuman agents — S.Q.R.L. — but man, it’s just doesn’t suit the book. That’s just one of several problems with the book, but the creators also hit their mark in some regards. Chief among them is how they use narration and greytones to achieve a dark, tense atmosphere. This is a better spy book than super-hero story, and despite the awkward pacing, I found I was interested in the story. And that’s in light of the somewhat cliched plot. The art is rather unusual. At first glance, it seems a bit loose, just on the edge of being abstract, but ultimately, it’s stiff and a bit plain.
Tyler McAllister was once a S.Q.R.L. agent, using his lower-level powers to serve the United States as a covert operative, until he was left for dead after a surveillance job went bad. It’s now five years later, and S.Q.R.L. has sought him out, recruiting him to help bring down the man who set him up. Tyler’s paired with his former partner, Rose, who left him behind, choosing the mission over his life. Needless to say, their reunion is far from the warmest event in their lives.
The Meehans’ artwork occasionally makes it look as though the creators need to get a firmer grasp on anatomy, but in other scenes, their sketchy style seems to capture the human form quite well. Actually, an apt way top describe the art throughout the book is inconsistent. At times, it’s sharp and impressive, conveying the right level of detail without endeavoring for a photorealistic look. At others, the panels are sparse to the point of distraction, as though the characters have suddenly moved into some kind of void instead the world in which their investigation is conducted. The greytones are often well done, achieving just the right mood. And again, at others, the visuals get far too dark, especially around the edges of pages and panels. Sometimes, the action flows well, and sometimes, the figures are stiff and awkward.
This book is actually a collected edition of the first seven issues of the Meehans’ mini-comic of the same name. The story, characters and concepts are rather ambitious for that format, and I have to give the creators credit for pulling it off. Mind you, I think reading this story in such a brief, episodic format might prove frustrating. As it is, this book, though it features an intriguing story, fails to really do more than just get the plot started. I like the format, but it feels as though we’re still missing half of the book. The staggered nature of the episodic storytelling shows through here. The scene shifts are somewhat abrupt, and the earlier segments tend to retread information we’ve just been given pages before.
Where the creators succeed in their efforts on this book is chiefly in the narration. It’s straightforward and cold, and that’s effective in establishing an atmosphere of intrigue, personal pain and gravity. I was surprised at how much I cared about Tyler and connected with his feelings of betrayal and anger. This is an extreme character, but the simple script somehow bridges the gap between the audience’s mundane world and the edgy, exciting one in which the story is set. 5/10
For more information about Raised by Squirrels or to download individual issues, visit the official website.