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Supernaturally Yours

 

Runoff: Chapter 2

Tom Manning

Oddgod Press, 2005

Rating: 4.3

 

Posted: May 6, 2005

By Dave Brennan

At first glance, Tom Manning’s Runoff is easy to dismiss. It could be due to the book’s awkward dimensions, slightly larger than the mainstream competition that floods the market each week. Or perhaps it’s the homemade quality of its content, the kind of rough black-and-white job written by fans and left stapled together in a stack at the counter of local comic shops. Or maybe it’s just because you’ve never seen it advertised or listed in a fancy price guide. Judge a book by its oversized cover, however, and you’ll be missing out on one of the most satisfyingly original comics written in years. Hard to describe and impossible to put down, Runoff is an absorbing and unsettling tale of supernatural suspense in a quiet mountain setting, and the latest installment, over a year in the making, manages to preserve the strange appeal of the first chapter while taking the story in a bizarre new direction.

When we last left the small town of Range, Washington, a freak highway accident had led authorities to the mutilated bodies of four local poachers, found alongside a mysterious corpse with razor-sharp teeth. Before long, unseen forces had sealed off the town’s borders (people can enter, but no one can leave), while ghostly apparitions roamed the streets and tensions mounted among the townspeople. After a particularly violent misunderstanding with psychotic local recluse Mort Carver, the residents of Range attempted to adjust to their haunted roach motel status by preparing for the annual Halloween festivities. But as their children took to the streets, we learned that “Mr. Teeth” wasn’t quite deceased after all. And what’s the deal with that floating tombstone with the smiley face, anyway?

If Runoff: Chapter One can be described as Twin Peaks meets The Twilight Zone, then Chapter Two is the twisted love child of Northern Exposure, Friday the 13th and The Monster Squad. The story picks up right where it left off, exploding into a frenzy as Mr. Teeth slaughters dozens of innocent bystanders in a murderous rampage. Gone is the subtle atmosphere of suspense that dominated the first installment -- the opening moments of this book are all-out chaos, as detective Hal Cannon, Snoquomish Indian police chief Joe Madson and a trio of FBI agents try to stop the ravenous killer. Before the night is over, they must confront a pack of bloodthirsty wolves, a forest full of creepy talking animals, a clandestine society of monsters and an unholy local history. And Mr. Teeth’s strange floating friend is still in tow, seemingly drawn to the escalating body count; we’re given very little information as to who or what this entity is, although recent events suggest that it might be a gateway to another dimension.

The crazier Runoff’s story gets, the clearer it becomes… and the more questions it raises. There’s a familiar small-town sensibility that keeps the book grounded, even when a crazed werewolf is running around in what appears to be a pair of superhero underpants. Of course, just when the easygoing banter and hometown charm lull you into a false sense of security, a zombie chauffeur named Mr. Pickles shows up during the third act to let readers know the mystery is far from being solved. And when the story veers into a discussion of quantum physics, the best you can do is to hang on and enjoy the ride. Manning seems to have a good idea as to where all of this is heading, and his story is driven by this confidence, no matter how many weird twists he has hidden up his sleeve.

Runoff’s grassroots nature tends to snap the reader out of the moment for a split second every so often -- an unclear panel here, a hastily drawn background there -- but as soon as the page is turned, the brief lapse in believability has all but vanished, and the story draws its audience in once again. The artwork, though unrefined, has improved considerably over the series’ early issues. Manning’s style is reminiscent of the rotoscope animation used in films like Waking Life, and the book’s nocturnal setting allows him to keep his characters engulfed in darkness, allowing only a few profiles or highlighted features to penetrate the claustrophobic backdrop of silhouetted pine. The book is almost cinematic in tone, using large panels, panning views and zooming perspectives to tell its tale, while key plot points are revealed through narrated flashbacks and expendable FBI agents are introduced just when the story calls for an elevated body count. And similar to the last chapter, his style sometimes shifts to a Doonesbury-inspired comic-strip format complete with punch lines, an odd tactic that interrupts the story’s flow, yet adds to the surreal, quirky nature of the overall experience.

Boldly straying from the beaten path, Runoff is a rare and refreshing find in comics -- an experimental and captivating story that keeps the pages turning with well-defined characters, a believable location and nail-biting suspense. This is the best comic book you’ve probably never heard of, and a must-read for anyone with even a casual interest in the medium.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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