The review copies I receive usually end up in a pile on the kitchen table with the rest of the mail until I get home from work to see what I got. At that point I throw away the envelopes and bring the books into my comic-filled “rumpus room” for shelving. Not this time. Nope, when I saw that Prison Pit: Book Three had arrived, I let the empty envelope fall to the floor, opened the book, and read it where I stood. I literally dropped everything to read this thing.
That’s not to say that I did so without trepidation. Prison Pit: Book Two contained a sequence that was viscerally unpleasant even for Johnny Ryan in general and Prison Pit in particular. Would Ryan attempt to top a protracted sequence graphically detailing the rape of a semi-anthropomorphized female pterodactyl? Turns out the answer is no (sigh of relief). The sudden injection into the splatstick of Ryan’s taboo-breaking at its nastiest was bracing, but I’m frankly not sure if I could endure it for book after book. Volume three in Ryan’s madcap ultra-violent combat comic is firmly in the vein, so to speak, of the first installment: No-holds-barred body-horror battle between monster-men who look like refugees from an alternate-universe He-Man whose house artist was Pushead instead of Earl Norem.
The difference, though, is that our “hero,” Cannibal Fuckface, isn’t one of the combatants for the bulk of the book. This time, a nameless “arch enemy” (according to the chapter title) is doing the fighting, in service of his search for CF. It’s not clear if he’s a Javert looking for his Valjean, or an Inigo Montoya looking for his six-fingered man. But the arcane religious symbol he wields, and its connection to the underground ship filled with robotic priests that CF comes across in the book’s final third, is the first suggestion that Prison Pit will have an overarching plot of some sort beyond CF’s raw survival and (presumable) quest to escape.
Could this send ripples into the formal stuff of the series itself? Possibly. It is, after all, a series fixated not just on surviving the present moment on a narrative level, but on drawing that moment out to ludicrous lengths on a visual level. Its action is defined by page after page of grotesque bodily transformations depicted beat by gruesome beat. In Book Three‘s most memorable sequence, one such transformation is outright geometric in nature — a callback to the opening sequence from Book One, a seemingly endless depiction of the raw shapes of a ship and a planet as the former approaches the latter to deposit its cargo. The introduction of the “arch enemy” is a tantalizing link to the past for a story that draws so much of its power from living (and dying) in the now.