Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Plan B: The Haunted Life of Doctor Anomalous: It's not haunting my dreams yet

Link: Alan David Doane has released a free e-book collecting a ton of interviews he's done over the last decade or so, and it looks like really good stuff. I haven't had a chance to look at it too closely, but there are some good interview subjects in there, and ADD is a thoughtful commentator, so I expect good things here. Plus, it's free!

Plan B: The Haunted Life of Doctor Anomalous
Written by Josh Jenkins
Art by Karl Slominski


"Points for ambition" is my mantra, right? Well, this book might not quite qualify for the use of that refrain, but it does get the "good idea(s), less than perfect execuhtion" award. Maybe one can't expect too much from a micro-indie like this, a self-published graphic novel sold through a website, but the persistent typos and punctuation errors are distracting, and the plot could definitely have stood to be fleshed out a bit more. And since what's good shows a lot of promise, one wishes things could have stayed in the oven just a bit longer and kicked the book up to the next level.

But rather than focus completely on the bad, let's spotlight what's done well here. Writer Josh Jenkins has created a goofy, interesting world here, populated by mad scientists and other strange, silly people. We meet the title character, one Victor Anomalous, in 1942, when he was the head of a secret government research project (the titular "Plan B") tasked with creating alternative weapons. It's a prime facility for scientists of the less-than-sane variety, and the glimpse we get of it is entertaining and full of weirdness, lasting much too short. It's done through the time-honored technique of introducing the new intern/assistant (and thus the reader) to everyone, and it works, with a succession of crazies being paraded across the page and then gathered together for a funny staff meeting. Unfortunately, we don't get enough time with them, since the atom bomb gets developed and Plan B gets shut down, then we jump to the late 80s to see Dr. Anomalous a broken-down, lonely old man who spends all his time watching daytime TV. The rest of the book sees what turns out to be the real focus, as we follow him on a journey to rediscover himself and recall his dark secrets from those years. It would have been nice to spend more time at Plan B, fleshing out the crazy scientists a bit more and seeing what Anomalous was like in his prime. But, since the book has "Book 1" printed on the spine, perhaps future volumes will see the other characters' lives explored further.

Anyway, soon after jumping to the near-present, we learn the meaning of the title, as Dr. Anomalous begins seeing hallucinatory visions of his old compatriots, compelling him to break free from his complacent existence and try to recapture his old glory. Before he knows what has happened, he's traveled across the country and is teaching at a community college near the abandoned Plan B facility. At some point, he breaks back in and resumes his experiments, while attempting to woo a coed who is much too young for him and ruin the life of a academic and romantic rival. There are some funny bits along the way, but the plotting is rather ramshackle, with many of Anomalous' actions being inscrutable (possibly because he's losing his mind) and events occuring without much setup or payoff. For instance, Anomalous has some dark secret that isn't brought up until near the end, and even when it is supposedly explained, not much is answered, and it's hard to tell exactly why he does what he does once it is uncovered.

So yes, perhaps the script could have used a rewrite, and certain scenes or characters (such as Miss Tisk, the love interest character, who comes off as a mostly brainless hanger-on without much in the way of motivation) could have been fleshed out a bit more. But what the creators do well shows that they've got a flair for goofy dialogue and weird physical comedy. Jenkins peppers each scene with funny exchanges and speeches, with Anomalous regularly making mad scientist proclamations, to everyone's confusion:


And artist Karl Slominski has a unique style that appears to be digitally produced, with tons of lines covering the page, yet cohering into angular, expressive images of wrinkled, contorted figures. It's strange-looking stuff, but while it can sometimes be a bit too cluttered to really discern features or actions, it can also lead to some enjoyably cartoony movement:



As with the writing, it's something that could probably use some time to flesh out. Slominski does produce some striking pages here, so with practice, he could certainly improve with subsequent volumes. One can always hope; there's some real potential here.