As human beings, our rationality is driven by a number of things: personal desires and beliefs, our expectations of those around us, ethics, religion. However idiosyncratic these factors may be, any threat to them leads to conflict, which of course manifests itself in various degrees of severity, including all-out war. Apply this ability to rationalize to a bunch of wild mice, squirrels, cats, etc. accustomed to living by their instincts, and conflict leads to particularly brutal, bloody all-out war.
So promises the newest story arc of Squarriors, the intense, sweeping animal fantasy saga by writer Ash Maczko and artist Ashley Witter (affectionately known as “Team Ash”). The four-issue follow-up to 2015’s Spring, Squarriors Vol. 2: Summer is the continuing story of three squabbling animal tribes: the Tin Kin, who hold fast to their beliefs in a more peaceful, civilized way of life, lest their fate take the same turn as that of humankind; the Maw, the perfidious once-allies-turned-rivals of the Tin Kin; and the Amoni, a bloodthirsty clan (comprised mostly of–what else?–cats) in allegiance with the Maw to destroy the Tin Kin and restore the old savage ways of their baser animal instincts.
Summer’s premiere issue kicks off in true Squarriors tradition by checking in with the human holocaust storyline in 1985, taking baby steps towards the eventual reveal of what tragedy befell Homo sapiens. Flash forward to the summer of 1996, when the deformed Grin of the Maw arrives at the Amoni compound to inform the Amoni emperor, Ra, that the Maw is preparing to assist the Amoni in an attack on the Tin Kin tribe’s quarters. After a partly-successful infiltration of the Tin Kin and the assassination of one of its strongest members, Rustle, a spy on behalf of the Maw, has vowed revenge against the Tin Kin and a Maw turncoat who assisted the peace-seeking tribe in its efforts against their oppressors. As the Maw prepare to fight for their code, their leader Redcoat reminds them that without the Tin Kin, the Maw could easily become the next to die for their code at the hands of the formidable and relentlessly violent Amoni. Meanwhile, back at the Tin Kin compound, Maw spy Zeezee advises Eli and his beleaguered tribe to vacate before the Amoni/Maw strike. Eli argues, with visions of the violent end that could befall the tribe if they depart, that the Tin Kin has a better chance of surviving an attack on its own turf than out in the free world without a stronghold. Meo mourns the loss of the fallen Pasha and swears revenge against the rival clans.
Vows of vengeance abound in the debut issue of this chapter, amidst plenty of momentum for the climactic clash to come. Just enough information is dispensed to both remind readers where we left off and build tension, foreshadowing loyalties that could divide further and further with each installment. Maczko deftly blends dark fantasy and tribal war drama with mild elements of horror (read: it’s very bloody/gory) and occasional bursts of humor, buoyed by a cast of animals brought to life in complex and sympathetically humanlike characterizations. Like its human predecessors, the Amoni risk the same fate of extinction by its own code of violence and hatred, making Maczko’s story a fitting and timely morality tale in the context of today’s society.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the Squarriors series never disappoints, as the art of Ashley Witter is nothing short of visually sumptuous. The keen eye for detail, the color and mood, the way Eli’s visions of the attack on the Tin Kin is rendered in a way that is all at once devastating (you can seriously feel the fear in these poor squirrels’ faces) and absolutely gorgeous…Witter nails it visually, emotionally, in every single area, every single time. I particularly enjoyed the opening of the issue, which focuses initially on a squirrel in the road hearing the rumble of an oncoming car, then shifts its focus to the car, providing a neat, cinematic twist on introducing the human wraparound story. Each panel is a wonder to behold, and the time and care put into bringing each character to life is palpable on sight.
In summary: Team Ash. Squarriors Vol. 2: Summer #1. Winning. Must read. That is all.