Horror operates on the premise that we should be scared of things that lurk in the shadows and creatures that can share or commandeer human bodies. But the first collection of clever action-horror series Cry Havoc shows that shoving weirdness to the fringes only makes it more powerful and more dangerous.
The first six issues of Cry Havoc — written by Si Spurrier with art by Ryan Kelly, Nick Filardi, Lee Loughridge and Matt Wilson — have been collected in a new trade paperback that hits stores and digital outlets today. Cry Havoc: Mything in Action tells the story of Lou, a street musician whose roller-coaster romance with her girlfriend gets beyond complicated when she becomes host to a feral wolf spirit. After the attack in an alley that changes her, Lou starts experiencing blackouts and diminishing impulse control.
Spurrier gets a lot of mileage out of the fact that living in 2016 seems to demands a homogenisation of experience; letting anything too raw, unmoderated or bizarre out where other folks can see it is just bad manners. As a result, our modern age is rife with services that promise to discretely help sort out the messier parts of our lives. Desperate to try and tame the beast raging inside of her, Lou calls a helpline that funnels people like her into secret paramilitary research organisations. Soon, she's part of a special unit of other werefolk that's tagging along with American troops in Afghanistan to try and track down a high-ranking official who's gone rogue. Lou's cautious battlefield bonding with similarly afflicted folks happens in encounters where she sees how a man-boar, walking insect swarm and other hybrid humans embrace or loathe their inner savagery. The inner selves that they don't want to own up to are horrifically useful in battle.
Cry Havoc shows Lou in three stages of her life: In London trying to adjust to her changed life, early on during her tour in Afghanistan and having finally caught up with rogue commanding officer Lynn Odell. There's a rich, churning reservoir of ideas simmering underneath the paramilitary trappings of Cry Havoc. It's about the monstrosity that lurks in humanity and the way that we try to suppress or channel it. That's the point of setting it in the Middle East. It's a place that has its own hidden histories, a place where people in the West think we know what the monsters look like while conveniently redacting our own complicity in their creation.
Cry Havoc rides a wire of wild mythological ephemera straight into the 21st century, positing that sweeping ornery uncomfortable ideas off our screens and social media feeds only gives them a different, harder-to-manage influence. Spurrier and company have deftly crafted a comic that captures the messy cycle of stimuli intake and repressed response that we all struggle to manage every day.
This is a comic that is garrulously, belligerently drunk on ideas but that also manages to present strong characterisations and dramatic arcs. It uses hoary old types and obscure folkloric monsters in a grand dance of metaphor. The gore splattered on these pages is a stand-in for our collective stifled ids, frustrated with the inherited emptiness that's sold to us as the status quo. Mything in Action reads like a growling roar back at the impulse to reduce everything to bite-sized memes. If the world wants to make a monster out of you, don't do it the favour of hating yourself. Your only hope for finding purpose is to reckon with your otherness and love yourself wholly, especially if no one else will. There are spaces where we can still be wild, even if we need to make them ourselves.