Karney: Hideous & Grotesque #1 Review

Reviewer: Jimmy Lin

Story by: Bryan Johnson
Penciled by: Walter Flanagan
Inked & Colored by: Tom B. Long
Lettered by: Robbie Robbins
Publisher: IDW

5/10 points – it’s poised on the brink of cliff, and I don’t know which way it’s gonna fall.

Circus freaks. Great concept. A friend of mine wants to visit a town in Florida full of retired circus freaks. There’s something undeniably fascinating about these people and the humanity of their lives, and so when I saw this book, I just had to read it. Unfortunately, this first issue has made me a bit apprenhensive about picking up the rest of the series.

“Karney: Hideous & Grotesque” takes place in rural community around the turn of the century. Othello’s Cavalcade of Oddities rolls into town, inciting excitement from the youngsters and consternation from the elders. As the show sets up, we’re treated to a glance inside the tent. Our freaks are apparently as dysfunctional as they are grotesque. The slug-man is a loud-mouthed lech, the living skeleton is a belligerent fool, the cutter is a kind of enabler…well, you get the picture. For the most part, it seems that The Cavalcade is as grotesque on the inside as their skins are.

At the same time, you’re introduced to a romance between shy and anything-but Manley and his beautiful, blonde, hot-to-trot fiancee’ Lacey. She wants to elope and git-it-on, but Manley’s a good boy and won’t have nothin’ to do with it. You meet Manley’s friends, who aren’t exactly the most upstanding “normies” in town, and this is where “Karney” starts to get interesting. The book blends the line between normal folk and freak, exposing a seedier side of everyday life in town. It’s when everyone gets together at an opening-night barbeque, the stage is set for the townie-vs.-carnie conflict that will drive this series, as members of the Cavalcade prepare to rape Lacey in front of Manley.

“Karney” is a dark tale in a dark setting, and while this type of story has potential, Johnson’s characterizations depend too much on caricaturial stereotyping to succeed. The farmer’s daughter, the angry pastor, the sick freaks – there’s nothing new presented here. It’s a story that plays on a lot of fears – like being gang-raped by circus freaks – but none of the characters are likeable enough to sympathize with. Lacey’s a cock-teasing drama queen, Manley’s a wimpy farm boy, and the freaks are dysfunctional and sociopathic. There’s no one you can empathize with, and the plot feels exploitive to the point of being in bad taste. Where Issue #1 ends is half a step away from being a parable written by the Klan: a white woman about to be raped by a black freak and his foreign friends. As such, I’m not too eager to see where the rest of the story goes. The plot could still take a turn into more interesting territory, but so far, it’s just headed towards a bad place.

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