Creature Tech, Doug TenNapel

Top Shelf, 2002, 208 pages, C$23.99 tpb, ISBN 1-891830-34-1

Damn, this is a cool book.

If you’re a geek like me, just think of what you think is cool. How about giant space eels? Well, okay, me neither. But how about a shotgun-wielding giant mantis? A young superstar Nobel-prize-winning protagonist? A government warehouse stuffed with dangerous alien technology? Demons? The Shroud of Turin? SDI Lasers? Possessed hellcats? Giant fights, musings on the nature of faith and a non-sappy romance? All of that and more is in Creature Tech, one of the most unique books you’re likely to read this year.

It stars one Dr. Michael Ong, a hip prodigy scientist drafted by the American government to study the contents of some 750-odd crates of alien technology accumulated over the years. Forced to move back to his native small town of Turlock (where he has to deal with his estranged father, an old high-school classmate and the redneck locals), he is soon forced to deal with an immeasurably more dangerous situation: A freak lab accident frees a murderous monster, and by the end of the first fight, Ong is saddled with a parasitic alien life-form with some very curious properties. He’ll need all the help he can get, given that he has also unleashed a ghost with grandiose world-domination plan, demonic help and the Shroud of Turin, an artefact with complete regenerative powers.

Whew! We haven’t even covered the first quarter of the book! All of that and then some is available to you in almost 200 pages. (The book isn’t paginated, which make it a bit difficult to refer to specific passages when commenting the story) Believe me, this is a comic book worth your money-

-what? Oh, yes: Creature Tech is a graphic novel, a standalone comic book. But petty genre-distinctions be damned; this is one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in a while, books, movies or comics put together. In fact, it’s not an accident if Creature Tech reads a lot like a film (for better or worse, depending on your outlook) with a classical monster-movie structure; interviews with the author have revealed that this was a story first written as a script and then adapted to comic-book format when it became obvious that this wasn’t going to be made. (But what is hot is hot, and so the latest rumours have it that Creature Tech‘s been optioned by Hollywood. Go figure.)

No matter, though; as in all media, what counts isn’t as much originality of structure as much as it’s the skill of the execution, and here is where this book truly delivers. Laugh-out-loud-funny dialogues alternate with occasional moments of deep poignancy and even some musings on the nature of faith and rationality. The art isn’t as crisp as I would have liked it to be, but I think it’s got plenty of personality, especially with the moody black-and-white compositions (fabulously enough, scenes that take place at night are inked white-on-black; nice!). Creature Tech fires on all cylinders and delivers pretty much everything you’d want from a story. Thrills! Chills! Romance! Comedy! Run and get it already: This is cool stuff! Don’t fret about the cost: If Creature Tech appeals to you as much as it did to me, you’ll end up re-reading it several times anyway.

As for your reviewer, well, Creature Tech also represents an interesting departure of sorts. After years of reading Internet luminaries like Scott McCloud et al. boldly proclaim that the Internet will broaden the market for comic books by introducing “fringe” readers (like me, I suppose) to worthwhile books by global word-of-mouth, it finally happened to me. An article about Creature Tech by Aint-it-Cool’s trusted “Professor Moriarty” made me aware of Creature Tech‘s existence. I assumed that the book would remain unavailable up here in frosty Ottawa, but was happily proven wrong by a fortuitous visit to the neighbourhood comic book shop.

But regardless of how the book ended in my hands, I just want to thank Doug TenNapel for producing such a cool story. Somehow, I wanted to read such a book for a long time, and there it is!

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