The fragile human mind requires all of its instruments to be working at peak capacity to maintain a proper chemical balance. Just the slightest tilt one way or another and the results can return us to our basic animal instincts. In Lazaretto #5 (BOOM!), written by Clay McLeod Chapman (Amazing Spider-Man, American Vampire), and art by Jey Levang (HeLL(P)), that balance that makes us human has gone. And all that is left is a nationwide quarantine that leaves college friends, Charles and Tamara fighting to survive until morning.
Not knowing anything about this series, as I glance over the front cover I don’t see anything that pulls me in, but once I read it and went back to look at it again, it hit me. That’s when I knew that regardless of my opinion of this comic book, the cover, which shows Charles and Tamara struggling to stay afloat, reveals foreshadowing and symbolizes their struggle not to become like the rest of the infected student body.
The story opens up with Charles and Tamara in a dormitory surrounded by a group of students who are infected with the canine flu. A virus that causes a variety of numerous ailments, including but not limited to insanity and also causes the skin to easily peel off the muscle leaving nothing but a skinless human muscle diagram. At one of the dormitory is the de facto leader who drapes himself with a cape and sits on a makeshift throne. His goal is to infect Charles and Tamara and make them like everyone else. Chapman describes Lazaretto to be like Lord of the Flies meets Animal House, with a little bit of Contagion for good measure.
Chapman’s writing is spot on. There is a conscious balance between how much should be dialogue, and how much should be visuals (and I’ll speak to the fantastic art soon). I’ve always admired writers who know when to pull back (or maybe it’s just where their talent brings them), and when to drop the bomb. The twist at the end, original or not, predictable or not, works. And it works because of the way Chapman leads us into it, and because we can’t take our eyes off the mesmerizing artwork.
When as asked why he wanted Lazaretto to be in comic book form, Chapman said it was the best way to represent the virus in a hallucinatory form. Levang’s bright colors and freakishly child-like art fits Chapman’s story seamlessly. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Scott Snyder’s Wytches, in writing, art, and disturbing subject matter. Some may not care for Levang’s art because of the way he draws some background characters; with very little detail it almost looks amateurish, but I warn against that because what’s more disturbing than roughly drawn madman pulling the skin off his face?
I enjoyed this comic, and it makes me want to go back and read the previous four issues. Lazaretto #5 is due out tomorrow, 1/31/18. Check it out; it’s definitely worth the time.