Created by: Kevin Cannon
Published by: Top Shelf
ISBN: 1603091009 (Amazon)
I was already an ardent admirer of Kevin Cannon for the one work of his I’d read. Far Arden is a dear joy to me and sits happily and staunchly among my favourite comics works. The work is funny and sad and adventurous and poignant and true. I did not know what to expect when I first encountered the book, and found myself continually surprised by how very much fun I had pouring over its pages. I’ve read it several times over the past few years, first a couple times with a library copy, then online, and finally with my own edition. I should probably pick up a second copy for the day my first inevitably fails.
Fact: I love Far Arden. So it shouldn’t be any surprise to learn that I’ve been anticipating Crater XV like crazy. Even if it has a space station on its cover and is named Crater XV.11Other fact: space and rockets don’t exactly do much for me. I was a huge fan of space exploration as a kid. I subscribed to Odyssey magazine. I knew what a syzygy was. I was enthralled by Voyager and Pioneer. Skylab filled my eyes with wonder and, maybe, delight. I was roundly known as a “space cadet” for my astronomical loves.
I’m not sure when that affection died or even what killed it. In second grade, I lived in the pages of Our Universe. By sixth, the only reason I knew anything about the Challenger before it erupted into a terrible historical footnote was that our school (and perhaps every school in the US) made sure we knew well and good that Christa McAuliffe was a schoolteacher and she was going to space and that, for some reason, made her a hero. (It hurts me to know that I was a cynical little bastard even then.)
Maybe it was the nerdiness of my interest, the fact that friends so looked down on my looking up. Maybe it was the slow realization that space offered nothing but a colder, more isolated version of the same reality I dwelt in every day. I can’t pin down the impetus or the moment, but somewhere between ages seven and thirteen, my love of outer space died. And it being space, even I did not hear it scream.
I know a lot of people (or at least a handful) who were put off by Far Arden's tonal shift. They thought it moved from light into darkness too quickly. I personally saw the stormclouds gathering gradually, and while I couldn’t have predicted exactly to which depth the book would finally plumb, nothing felt out of place with Cannon’s ultimate destination for Army Shanks and his cohorts.22I talk briefly about why I thought the shift worked in the spoiler for Far Arden. If you’d like to read that explanation, hover your mouse over the word SPOILERIn Far Arden's conclusion, I appreciated that Cannon was saying starkly what he had been saying obliquely throughout the prior 368 pages. From the outset, we discover that Far Arden destroys lives. At first by the possibility of its existence, then by the certainty of its existence, and finally by the experience of its existence. The end is foreshadowed by much more than Fortuna’s quotation of Lawrence Oates and the book’s gathering darkness shows a steady increase as it goes: deaths are first played for laughs with characters we don’t know (Flue), then move into heroism (Anger), then to tragedy (Amber), and finally to meaninglessness (with the rest). here. Still, no matter how one ended up feeling about Far Arden's blend of comedy and tragedy, no one who read the prior book will be caught off-guard by any place that Cannon chooses to take Army in this sequel.
Actually, that’s one of the pieces of the Crater XV puzzle that had me so invested. Knowing how happily Cannon could willingly abuse his characters entrenched the expectation that he might do anything to Army or any member of his supporting cast. Would the fifteen-year-old perish with her dreams of space unfulfilled? What of Pravda, Army’s childhood love? Would Barty turn into a sympathetic character only to rush headlong into his own mortality? And what of Army himself? The adventurer begins the story a broken man, wholly devastated by the events of the prior adventure. What would Kevin Cannon do to him this time? After all, a story with no conflict, with no danger to its hero, can hardly be much of a story. How far would that damned Cannon go?
How far indeed!
Crater XV, for all my fears that it’d mire itself in space exploration, turned out to be exactly as rambunctious and adventurous and gripping and thoughtful as I’d hoped it would be. Cannon is so skilled at telling an adventure tale that I cannot immediately draw to mind a single author who does it better. I nearly read the entire 496 pages in a single rapturous sitting.33It was only the fact that I wished to remain gainfully employed that kept me from taking a two-hour lunch break in order to devour the entire book at a once. Crater XV twists and wriggles and finds ever new ports into which its story might squirm and then dock. There were so many Oh What Is Going To Happen points throughout that I gave up predicting and simply held on to what Cannon fed me. This didn’t mean I gave up trying to predict where our ship was going; it just meant that those predictions were generally pretty futile.
Cannon, as it turns out, is wily.
Crater XV returns with the same madcap humour as governed the prior work. Characters behave as lunatics, motivations are sometimes absurd, and Army is still completely invulnerable and superhuman—save for when he isn’t. As well, Kevin Cannon brings back his use of expository onomatopoeia. It’s even more often present in Crater XV than in Far Arden. Here’s an example:
Still, as exciting as Crater XV is as an adventure story and as warming as it is as a source of humour, my favourite part of Cannon’s sequel is its human aspect. Ultimately, this is what sold me so strongly on Far Arden as well. Readers more interested in a comedic adventure won’t be required to think so hard at all and will simply be able to bask in the unadulterated mallemaroking. But for those of sterner stuff, those who crave the adventure of the human spirit and all the woes that adventure requires, Crater XV will provide ample fodder for meditation.
While Far Arden principally concerned itself with the dangers inherent in ambition and the pursuit of dreams (as well as what it means to belong and to desire belonging), Crater XV treats (among other things) what drives the human animal to live, even after hope is twisted and dreams burnt to bare husks. Army Shanks begins at a raw place, but his is not the only story of finding life from lifelessness. There is a certain thematic resonance between many of the book’s characters, from Army to Sztab to Arluk to Barty to Molniya to Drake and Richter. Even fifteen-year-old Wendy’s reckless optimism reads as a personal artifice she’s designed to push herself from an empty life toward something of value.
Another governing paradigm for these characters is their struggle to see beyond their own troubles and accurately assess the world as it is. Too many of them force their vision of the world to conform only to what they hope to see. Barty, for the least spoilery example, carries a desperate need to feel like his position as an Arctic League bureaucrat can still enable him to be the hero Canada wants. In his quest to justify a “heroic” attack on an oil tanker, he will not allow himself to see anything that contributes to a scenario in which the tanker’s goal is less than bombing Canadian soil. And Barty’s is the least of these delusions. Army, as the central figure of Crater XV, of course carries the strongest personal mirages, and these motivate him in a complexity of ways. Army is haunted by both the events recorded in Far Arden and a newly unveiled history that returns him to his orphaned childhood—and it’s in this web of personal illusions that perhaps the book’s truest plotline—a story wholly divorced from the exterior adventure that governs the Crater XV's narrative superstructure—finds its home.
I didn’t know how Cannon could follow up Far Arden with another Army Shanks story. Things seemed to wrap up fairly conclusively in the story as revealed in that first volume. I hadn’t imagined such a robust sequel—or one that paid such service to the beloved original. And yet, Crater XV delivers. It’s a huge book and it’s extraordinarily fun. Similar to Far Arden, I’m not sure where exactly a sequel to Crater XV would come from. But Cannon is enormously imaginative and if he decides to make Far Arden a trilogy, then I will hunger for that third book as voraciously as I did for this second volume. And I expect that hunger will be likewise justified and then satisfied. Because, as wily as he is, Kevin Cannon delivers.
Kevin Cannon delivers, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that he sexy delivers
It may sound like I’m gushing. That is because I clearly am. I love these books more than I love the vast majority of comics that I love. So yeah, I am gushing and I will continue to do so. Until you buy these two books and love them at least half so much as I do.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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