When a young, aimless bartender receives a cryptic message in unfathomable ruins instead of a tip, he is soon made aware of a subculture of ancient monsters that exist right under our very noses. When his life is threatened by a number of these creatures a scarecrow with the soul of a warrior god-monster, wielding a huge, enchanted sword, comes to his rescue. From then the young man becomes an unwitting witness as the scarecrow embarks on a revenge/salvage mission as it hunts down the ones that stole away his physical vessel.
I first became aware of the artwork of James Harren with his output at Dark Horse comics. Initially on Conan, Harren knocked me for six with his brilliantly kinetic artwork; wonderfully detailed and stylistically original enough to catch your attention, his characters jumped out of the panels with energy in scenes that are animated even in instances of pure conversation.
So impressed was I that I decided I was going to follow him onto whatever books he would work on in the future, luckily for me he moved onto a book I already read and adored, B.P.R.D, where he got to draw scenes of bizarre Lovecraft style monster apocalypses, to my great pleasure.
This proved to be a double win for me because he was teamed up with John Arcudi, the unsung hero of the Mignola-verse and a very talented writer in his own right, a versatile creator whom I became a big fan of in the late 90s (I urge you to seek out his short-lived superhero parody series, Major Bummer, originally titled Captain Slackass but rescinded by DC for reasons of taste). The two complimented each others immensely; they must have thought so, anyway, because while producing adventures of the B.P.R.D they were also developing a creator owned series over at Image comics.
The conceit of Rumble means that both creators can indulge in what they enjoy most, in Harren’s case monsters and action, and in Arcudi’s case slacker humour and mythology building. The results are wonderful and quite as original in tone and narrative as the synopsis suggests.
Bobby, the central human character of the story, is an excellent foil for the larger than life action that plays out around him. He’s the type of character that is hapless and aimless but doesn’t really have a problem with that, his morals are in the right place, which sometimes causes him to act when he’d rather not, but he has no special need to get dragged into high adventure. That mixed with the sharp dialogue makes for a fun and interesting point of view for a mythological monster mash.
Harren, meanwhile, gets to design creatures that appeal to his own sensibilities rather than following the guidelines dictated by other peoples’ creations. Sometimes we are served up monsters with a familiar bent and other times we get a nice dollop designic singularness, and on the odd occasion we are given characters that, if there were any justice, would become iconic imagery. Case in point, Rathraq, the scarecrow-warrior-god/the central creature character.
It’s odd to say, but Harren, with his swift inking brush, renders stylised clothing wrinkles awesomely, so, despite the fact that this character is a scarecrow, he always looks stylistically badass, and never more so than when embarking on violent battles with all haste… which happens frequently.
It also must be said that the central narrative is actually much more detailed and ambiguous than the above synopsis would indicate, to the point that, if describing it to someone, it’s rather hard to pin down. Sure, it’s a semi-reality based, contemporary fantasy adventure, but Arcudi refuses to let the storytelling be relayed via a single style; within the same issue we might flick between high adventure, noir and outright Saturday morning cartoon, and all rather seamlessly. It also, duplicitously, has enough pangs of familiarity to ease you right in comfortably despite the onslaught of originality you’re soon greeted with.
This is just the first arc and what direction it will take is anyone’s guess, but it has a dedicated fan right here and I highly recommend it. Rumble might not be to everybody’s tastes but it is fresh, fast and funny, showcasing great writing and beautiful, energetic artwork.
The individual issues of Rumble 1-5 are all currently available in first and second printings depending on the issue but the collected edition will be available from June.