ALL STAR RECOMMENDS FOR AUGUST 11TH
COMIC OF THE WEEK : DENGUE
By Rodolfo Santullo & Matias Bergara
Published by Humanoids
Oh, Humanoids. I’m sorry I’ve neglected your fine boutique Euro wares in this column, it’s just that there’s too much to say. Yes, I have columns planned on The Incal and Son of the Gun and Swords of Glass and many more, but I’m slightly intimated by what I know will end up being overly long pieces that bang on about existentialism and psychedelia and, really, we’ve all had about enough of that from me, I’m sure. Thankfully, however, there is the recently released Dengue to talk about, which at 96 pages is a book I can recommend promptly and earnestly without a word count blow-out and a rant about the heart of the universe.
“We get in out airtight suits and cars, with our stinking bug spray and we only go out when absolutely necessary. Yet we carry on regardless,” says main character Sergeant Pronzini and this is likely as good a summary of Dengue as you’ll find.
Thanks to Global Warming, Dengue fever is spreading and with it, the rise of the mosquito as the dominant lifeform on Montevideo, Uruguay. Humans are forced to either live sealed up tight in their homes or venture through the ruined city only in hazmat suits or risk becoming infected. There are piles of dead bodies and general apocalyptic ruin to prove this. Sergeant Pronzini is a grizzled, chain-smoking homicide cop who resembles a badly hungover Robert De Niro. The discovery of the naked, murdered body of a famous scientist working for the company that seeks a cure to the disease sees Pronzini thrust into a deep conspiracy, exposing corruption, greed and lies at the highest levels. Despite the heaviness of that synopsis, Dengue is, oddly enough, “Cli-Fi” (can you believe that’s a genre now?) at its most fun.
Thousands are dead or infected and the latest scientific discovery reveals that with three mosquito bites, the infected can mutate into something neither quite human nor insect. This development could be treated as something like The Fly, yet the satirical streak that runs through Santullo’s script, broken up into easily digestible chapters that at first seem loosely connected at best, makes Dengue an unexpectedly fun ride. From its mosquito monsters to its corporate irresponsibility to its haggard yet brave protagonist and his dogged truth-seeking reporter partner, Valeria Bonilla, Dengue packs a lot into its relatively brief page count, becoming quite the political page-turner in the process.
Bergara’sunique art will likely not blow you away at first glance. Far from the intricate, highly-detailed work we’re accustomed to from this publisher, Bergara is more of a caricaturist, with thick lines and big chins recalling the legendary Carlos Ezquerra somewhat. It’s likely this off-kilter sense of characterisation that creates much of Dengue’s mood, however, as imagining the pages with a more traditionally elegant and “beautiful” Euro comics look is a difficult task once the covers are closed. Bergara’s not the flashiest, but his pages flow wonderfully, his human characters are consistent and unique in appearance, particularly the dogged, slumped Pronzini, and his mosquito men are hulking, monstrous things like Un-Men from Swamp Thing.Both creators live in Montevideo (which I did not know going in) and this may also contribute to the seamlessness of their collaboration and the uniformity of their creative vision.
Brisk and compelling, Dengue is playful in tone, serious in subtext and, beginning as procedural and ending as the story of the uprising of a brand new underclass, is surprisingly epic for such a slender book. Part of me wanted more middle to the story, more outward growth from the crime solving that opens the book so strongly, but this is ultimately a minor complaint. Santullo and Bergara successfully deliver an offbeat, humorous and compelling take on an end of the world full of bugs, body horror and climate change, which is a far more difficult task than it probably sounds.