Devolution Review

Most known for his global sensation World War Z, author Max Brooks now turns his attention from the undead to the Sasquatch with disturbingly-brilliant results.

Regardless of the feature film’s reception, the original source material for World War Z took the world by storm when Max Brooks created a realistic take on what would happen if zombies existed in our world. Well, as realistic as something like that can actually be. Now over a decade later Brooks returns to the world of cryptozoology and tackles the North American myth which has fascinated believers and skeptics in equal measure. In Devolution he asks one very simple question – how prepared are we for a discovery as monumental as finding out that Bigfoot is real, and that he is not alone?

Max Brooks

Unfortunately for the cast of this book, the answer is not very well at all. Told through the lens of an investigator researching the aftermath of the narrative’s tragic events, from the very beginning we are told that everyone is either confirmed dead (or more appropriately, slaughtered) or missing for over a year. Rather than spoiling the experience and making it feel like a waste of time, this keeps a cloud of dread hanging over the reader as every minor incident heightens the tension as we think “is this how it happens?” Tasked with the investigation by journalist Frank McCray, the sister of missing protagonist Kate Holland, our intrepid investigator goes over this particular mystery with a fine tooth comb in order to get to the truth.

It is a literary device which could not have been executed better for this subject matter. Using her journal as a guide, the investigator recounts what Kate experiences over the days and weeks following the eruption of Mount Rainier. This has cut-off herself and her fellow residents of the Greenloop off-the-grid ecologically-sound commune from the rest of society, leaving them with no cell phone coverage and blocked roads. Isolated from civilisation, the group hunkers down and makes the best of a bad situation by adapting to their environment and utilising the resources at their disposal. Initially unbeknownst to them, a troop of giant, ground-faring primates recognisable as ‘Bigfeet’ have been displaced by the disaster and have come across them after they fled their own natural, hidden habitat.

Beginning each chapter with a relevant quote from other ape or Bigfoot-related materials and breaking up the narrative with a fictional interview with Senior Ranger Josephine Schell, who was part of the team who first discovered the site of the disaster and found Kate’s journal, Brooks manages to amplify the tension and sensation of dread with each passing page. What begins as a hopeful, mostly lighthearted story of people trying to reconnect with nature in state-of-the-art self-sustaining homes soon turns into a fully-fledged horror story as a nightmare unfolds around the cast of characters.

When the disaster first hits panic sets in but soon gives way to clearer heads and everyone calms down, adjusting to the new routine. Then a few days later a rustle in the trees catches someone off guard. The paranoid sensation of being watched feels a little bit too real. A dark figure in the tree line which is there one moment and gone the next is just a little bit too suspicious. The first person to go missing is more than a little bit worrying. The screams coming from the forest are terrifying. The hairy behemoths spotted skulking around the commune in the dead of night are enough to turn nightmare into reality.

Maybe the truth is out there after all…(Paterson-Gimlin, 1967)

The pacing of this book is perfect. The first act is spent setting up the characters themselves and their quirks, while also familiarising the reader with the environment and their available resources. The second act is when the doubt and suspicion creeps in, and by the time the third act comes around we are racing at full speed through a fully-fledged horror story.

What makes the book all the more terrifying is the prior knowledge that despite all of their plans, all of their grand ideas and survival instincts – the humans lose. It is right in front of us in black and white in the introduction before we even turn the page to Chapter 1. Despite all of the character growth which goes on throughout the book, despite the skills and intuition which the people we begin to grow fond of develop in the face of danger, it is not enough. They are not equipped to face the horrors that await behind that rustling bush out of the corner of your eye.

Making a triumphant return to the horror genre, Max Brooks has crafted what will be seen as the current definitive take on the Bigfoot subgenre of literature. Mixing his signature blend of human endeavour against incomprehensible terror and unique account-based narrative, Devolution is an exhilarating read which deserves its place on any horror fan’s summer wish list.

Final Score: 10/10

The Rise of Kylo Ren (2019) Mini-Series Review

A long time has passed since the origin story of the Sequel Trilogy’s standout character was announced at San Diego Comic Con. Now, eight months later, has Charles Soule delivered a satisfying ending (or beginning?) to this chapter of Ben Solo’s life?

The Rise of Kyle Ren #1

In short, almost. Last December, hot off the heels of Ben Solo’s tragic death in the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga on film, fans were desperate for more content starring the conflicted son of Han Solo. With the fandom in mourning, the first issue penned by Charles Soule and masterfully illustrated by Will Sliney scratched an itch that could be felt even in a galaxy far, far away. Fast-forward three months to March, however, and this series is no longer an itch-scratcher. It has become required reading.

The sad truth of it all is that this series has made it crystal clear that Ben Solo was never going to have a happy ending. Even from a young age Palpatine was whispering in his ear, sowing the seeds of the Dark Side of the Force in his impressionable mind in order for him to blossom into the not-quite-Sith Kylo Ren who captivated the imaginations of fans the world over in The Force Awakens. Right at the beginning of this series it is revealed that the Knights of Ren refer to the Dark Side as ‘the Shadow,’ a nickname which is then used like a dagger through the heart of Ben Solo fans when it is said by another of Luke’s former Padawans that he casts “a pretty long shadow” in the Force. All the more tragic is the revelation that Ben did not set fire to Luke’s temple. Does the lightning strike suggest a powerful Dark Side user like Snoke, or even Palpatine himself? A likely bet, but maybe a patented Maz Kanata “good story, for another time.”

Still, it isn’t all tragedy and pity. Some of it is pure nostalgia and adrenaline. Seeing ‘Prime Luke,’ some years after the events of Return of the Jedi but before he became the Old Man Luke seen at the end of The Force Awakens, is something that has been sorely missing from the wider canon since the erasure of the old EU. Seeing Luke being a mentor to young Solo and in his fighting prime, easily dispatching the Knights of Ren, was a joy to watch unfold as Will Sliney makes every sabre slash look just as iconic as they do when projected in a theatre. Unfortunately the Knights themselves are still as big of a mystery as the eponymous Ren who dies at Ben’s hands, solidifying him as their new leader. A throwaway line in the final issue indicates that they are essentially bounty hunters, but beyond that we learn nothing more about them apart from the occasional name-drop which can be found in the movie’s visual dictionary. Seeing the Knights be single-handedly defeated by Luke and then struggle to fend off a single Padawan in the final issue does little to boost their credibility before we next see them in The Rise of Skywalker.

Still, if there is one thing which this series does well in terms of fleshing out the background of the Sequel Trilogy it is Luke’s academy. Used sparingly, the academy itself is only shown a handful of times. The real intrigue comes from Ben’s fellow Padawan learners Voe, Hennix, and Tai. Destined to die before this series even began due to the nature of villainous origin stories, getting to know each of these three students and their different personalities was something that is dying to be replicated in an animated series set post-Return of the Jedi and featuring Mark Hamill. Until that fan dream comes true, we must satisfy ourselves with this teaser of those lost years. Who knows, maybe we will meet the three Padawans who died at the hands of Ben again someday, making their deaths even more cruel in the second half of this series.

Last but not least, the final conflict. Sadly a little rushed, the series needed more than one final issue to wrap things up after the cliffhanger in Issue #3. Although Ben’s transformation into Kylo Ren as he embraced the Dark Side (even catching a glimpse of a certain brown-haired girl from Jakku) was satisfying to see in all of Will Sliney’s glory, as was his bleeding of the cyber crystal which would go on to power his cross guard lightsaber, for the most part the final quarter was forced to spend too much time ticking boxes to wrap things up and not enough time laying bare the conflict within Ben.

While we did get a healthy dose of psychology during his battle with Tai in which he outlined the battle between Light and Dark inside of him, it comes from a place of conflict and not a place of self-awareness. Joining the Dark Side becomes more of a frustrated reluctance rather than a profound epiphany, which both undermines the string-pulling of Palpatine and cripples the sympathy felt by the reader. If Ben fell to the Dark Side because Snoke showed him love and affection and didn’t care that he was the son of Han Solo, shouldn’t the same be said of Luke not caring that he was the grandson of Vader? Not even a callback to the iconic over-the-shoulder lightsaber draw on Exogol in The Rise of Skywalker can negate this particular grievance.

In any case, the build up to Kylo’s ‘rise’ over the previous three issues did a great job showing a more innocent side to Ben Solo and of expanding the lore of this galaxy far, far away. With any luck we will see the Jedi outpost from Issue #2 in one of Soules’ works set during the High Republic era over the course of the next few years. However, the grand finale, visually stunning as it may be, needed a fifth or even a sixth issue to breathe and give the reader a better sense as to why Ben Solo became Kylo Ren.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

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