Published by First Second on April 7th, 2015
Genres: fantasy, graphic novel
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Nestled in the grass under the big palm tree by the edge of the desert there is an entire civilization—a civilization of beetles. In this bug's paradise, beetles write books, run restaurants, and even do scientific research. One such scientist is Lucy, who leads a team of researchers out into the desert. Their mission is to discover something about the greater world...but what lies in wait for them is going to change everything Lucy thought she knew.
Beetles are not the only living creatures in the world.
The people that truly, truly know me know that I find insects fascinating. I mean, there are insects I don’t want in my house, but even those I find fascinating from a distance. One of my favorite documentaries is the Life in the Undergrowth series featured by David Attenborough. The things that bugs can do–the way they work together and forge a path for survival–it’s beautiful and at times a little bit horrifying.
So, a graphic novel that tells the story of a wingless beetle that goes on an expedition with a few of her friends to find life beyond her oasis? Count me in! Except it wasn’t all that great. Though the premise was fun and intriguing, the execution of the story and plot elements itself? Not so much. I appreciate a good story woven with entomology, I do, but you can not just do whatever you want within the constructs of the story. The storytelling was pretty atrocious, with deus ex machina after deus ex machina. Random inventions would just pop out of nowhere and save everyone from dying. That’s not how storytelling works. You need to foreshadow that shit. And the foreshadowing was practically nonexistent.
Here’s an example. One of the bugs, a hercules beetle named Mossy, was glued to a tree with resin. Lucy just happened to pull an acid potion out of the robot beetle Raef to get Mossy free before they were killed by a bird.
Another example. They need dish soap for an experiment to make Mossy breathe underwater, and Lucy just happens to have brought some along so she could wash her hat if it ever got dirty. I mean, some of this stuff is eye-rolling ridiculous.
I loved the anti-religion undertones though, I gotta say. I don’t want to spoil that in case you read it, but they are there. They aren’t in your face, but if you are looking for them you will find them.
The characters were cute. Not memorable, but cute. Though I am afraid this book will be long forgotten before the year is up. There’s just nothing that makes is stand out. The art is basic, the panels can be hard to follow at times, and there is just no depth to the story. It’s good to kill a couple hours of time, but it’s nothing special, and if you want to learn about bugs, or get your kids to learn about bugs, there are better sources out there.
The world-building was pretty well done, and it made sense within the constructs of the story, but you can’t just make shit up to save a character from dying. You cannot. It has to be believable. It has to make sense. You can surprise a reader, but a reader has to be able to take that surprise, look back over what they read, and go “OH YEAH. That makes sense now.” There was none of that here.
I hate being one of the first critical reviewers of this book, though I am still giving it 3 stars. I think there is a lot of good here. It just wasn’t enough. I don’t know if I would recommend it. I know I wouldn’t read it again. But I did love Lucy and Ma’ Dog.