Apex Carnifex

Apex2When it comes to horror comics, nobody does it better than Junji Ito. His efforts—including Uzumaki, Tomie and Frankenstein—are famous for being absurd, obscene and grotesque. If you’re new to the creator’s oeuvre, I recommend starting with Uzumaki. I guarantee you won’t be able to resist its insanely hypnotic spiral iconography.

Back in the early aughts, the mangaka published Gyo, a 400-page comic about a Japanese coastal town overrun by mutants. The story itself was half-baked, but the imagery remains intensely memorable—especially the drawings of various sea creatures walking on land. The shark, in particular, was super creepy. For the art alone, Gyo is worth checking out.

There’s a chilling scene in Chris McInally’s latest book that harkens back to the walking mutant sharks of Gyo. Having already established itself as the apex predator of the Florida Everglades, the Machaerodontis Carnifex (“Sword-Toothed Butcher”) shambles onto shore in a fit of manifest destiny. The creature—sort of a piranha-anaconda-dinosaur-like thing—perches itself atop a knoll like a lion surveying its domain, its bulky body held aloft by petrified, clam-shaped pectoral fins.

I don’t know about you, but the image of a fish walking on land is highly unsettling. “Half-sliding and half thundering along the beach, the carnifex made a fearsome sight,” writes McInally. “Grunting, hissing and shrieking like a banshee, the ruby-eyed creature barreled after its fleeing quarry with a vengeance.”

McInally’s first book in the series (Apex) was about a killer shark that made its home in a placid lake. The shark was fierce, but definitely water bound. As long as you stayed away from the lake, you had nothing to worry about. Not so with this new creature. Evolution had given it legs, lungs and an appetite for surface dwellers.

To the rescue comes Dr. Hailey Benson, the infamous shark slayer from McInally’s previous book. Initially the battle-scarred marine biologist is wary of the situation. “I’m not interested in hunting monsters,” she gripes. “I’ve been there and done that.”

But soon enough, her curiosity gets the best of her. Once in Florida, Dr. Benson assesses the situation and drafts a plan of attack. In one fell swoop, she’s going to kill the carnifex, save the Everglades and restore her tarnished scientific reputation.

Her plan works (I guess) but it unfolds in the craziest way. The novel’s improbable endgame features a Goldilocks moment (!!) that’s either a stroke of genius by the author or a wrongheaded blunder. Honestly, I can’t decide which.

Before the final showdown with the carnifex, however, Dr. Benson must defeat her deranged archnemesis—Demi, the radical animal rights advocate. The fight between the two alpha women is a doozy and is (arguably) the best thing in the book. Hopefully the author is working on Apex 3 right now. I’m really looking forward to the continuing adventures of Dr. Hailey Benson—monster hunter, superhero, shark slayer, carnifex butcher and friend to bears.

[Apex 2 / By Chris McInally / First Printing: June 2018 / ISBN: 9781925840018]