A slave by any other name … is still a slave.
Writer: Brian Studler
Artwork: Jason Muhr
Colors: Ceci de la Cruz
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
What They Say:
Now imprisoned on the island, and stripped of their powers, Red and Avril are shocked by the depths of Moreau’s madness, and by the strange society that she has created. They’re also surprised to learn that some of her creatures display far more humanity than their creator. And that humanity might be the key to saving their lives, after Moreau has them released into the jungle in order to be hunted down by the hybrids.
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
After being ruthlessly being captured by Dr. Helena Moreau and her collection of experiments, Britney and Avril unexpectedly find themselves being treated as powerless guests at her dinner table, waited on by various animal hybrids who have been enlisted as servants by their mistress. However there are a few who are treated better than the rest, with the warped scientist introducing two such exceptions as the man bull named Manolo being her trusted assistant and a dapperly dressed chimpanzee with the title of Sayer of the Law. But when her prisoners ask about the others, the callous doctor insists they are fairly treated as domestics, even though Red considers them as slaves, no matter how benign the wording for their employment may be addressed. It is only then does this renegade verbally lash out at this slander, defending her work of combining human embryos with animal stem cells as being misunderstood, further defending her actions of brutalizing the genetics lab as a result of revenge upon others for profiting off her work. And yet as her temper flares out and an errant fist slams upon the table, she upsets a bowl of soup to which one of the servers absentmindedly begins to lap off the floor, causing the cruel woman to insist upon corporal punishment, even as the leopard female pitifully regrets her momentary lapse in behavior and apologizes profusely.
After escorting her visitors to an outside arena which she calls appropriately the House of Pain, the good doctor surrenders the floor to the Sayer of Law, to which he asks the assembled to recite the island’s rules of behavior in which they must conduct themselves as humans and not beasts of the jungle. With the accused’s grievances now delivered upon the crowd, it is up to the powerful Manolo to dispense their judgment – twelve painful lashes via whip as many of the inhabitants avert their eyes just as Red and Avril, but the sadistic scientist looks on with grim satisfaction. As Moreau asks afterward if they are shocked by this punishment, the civilized guests respond by correcting her in stating they are disgusted by the treatment of her creations, whereby she answers her creatures respond best to this type of physical discipline. With the pair now forced to retire in a prison cell for the night, the friends discuss the apparent unease from the dissatisfied populace and what their next action should be – but foremost on their minds is liberation from this compound of terror. However with their powers now dampened via inscribed collars, the girls find themselves at an impasse with no means of escape, unless they can find some help for the most unlikely of sources.
As we finally arrive at the namesake destination of the title, it appears writer Brian Studler has consolidated his story loosely around the basis for the series – the horrific Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, but with a few welcomed modernizations to the surprising foundation. However as devotees to the original may notice, the most notable revision due to poetic liberties is within the origin of the beast men, with Wells having Moreau surgically alter creatures into men and Studler genetically modifying human embryos with animal stem cells, thus accenting the terror with futuristic techniques. While this adaptation in the story may not change the primary premise of cruelty, what shifts the dynamic of the tale is utilization of a beautiful woman at the core of such atrocities, especially when most societies see females as a nurturers and men as bringers of violence, and it is made all the more sickening due to her callous nature finally revealed within this issue, ruthlessly showing women can be just as cruel as any man. Although most of the overt violence and grotesqueness has been toned down and Studler does allow for some pop culture references such as a minotaur subordinate named Manolo and the Sayer of Law being changed into a dapper chimpanzee à la Planet of the Apes instead of an unknown grey figure, it is refreshing to see this author has kept the turning point of the story intact: an innocent mistake by one of the servants of reverting back to their animalistic ways by lapping up split food. But even as this inoffensive action takes center stage, we are once again reminded of how cold and unfeeling Helena can be toward her own children, whereby in the original there was a simple verbal warning, in this version she does not hesitate to have such a sickening punishment such as lashing be carried out without any outward protest from her humanistic creations. It is this distinct change in the main antagonist which allows Studler to create such a surprising narrative, one that acknowledges the concept of equality even as we shudder to think of how such a shocking revelation is should be prevalent within our modern world.
While I have complained in prior reviews about this series too often utilizing modelesque illustrations to emphasize the sensual curves of Britney and Avril, for this issue Jason Muhr’s stunning attention to detail helps to focus the readers’ attention to the various cruelties within this foreign world of savagery. And yet one cannot but be amazed by the opening page in which we are greeted by an almost civil situation of a charming evening dinner, until we study the attendees within this unusual atmosphere, and the warmness of this event is wonderfully heightened due to the rich earth tones of Ceci de la Cruz’s somber palette, almost making us forget not all are completely human, with a striking use of shadows to concentrate the darkness of the moment. However what fully draws our notice is the full view of the raven haired beauty at the head of the table, Dr. Helena Moreau, such a breathtaking woman controlling the event with our blondes essentially helpless within her grasp, all as we have an almost mocking gesture of an English gentleman as the Sayer of Law. And yet one could never guess what would happen after the page is turned, to witness this captivating lady erupt with fervor, made all the more frightening thanks to de la Cruz’s clever usage of a black background with sepia aura surrounding the explosiveness of her temper, and just enough lighting to accent her facial rage and raised fist. While this initial exposure may have just have been a taste of what is to come, it is not until the leopard woman spills the soup do we truly see Moreau’s true sadism come alive: the single panel of a domineering visage staring through the guilty, with a smoky setting accentuating her bone structure and sultry lips, almost as if she is looking forward with a facade of regret. However what truly shakes our resolve to see any sense of redemption within the good doctor is the arena scene: once again we have the Sayer of Law but this time with an almost solemn dignity upon him, his hands held upward in reverence as he quotes the laws of these people, allowing a similar smoky aura to portray a grimness to the situation. But what sickens us most from this issue is the centerpiece with Manolo standing over the shirtless leopard female with whip drawn back harkening back to slavery, allowing the tension to grow as readers know what will come next, made all the more grotesque and nauseating thanks to the effective use of text effects, all as the audience turns away … and the masochist leader looks on with the prisoner’s image startlingly reflected in her eye and a pleased grin upon tender lips. If this suffocating intensity is what we can look forward to within the finale, then this title will assuredly reward readers with an ending noteworthy to the story.
As Red Agent: Island of Dr. Moreau surprises us with a stunning depiction of a woman bent on revenge and showing the superiority her creations, one cannot but wonder why it took so long for this reveal when the series is almost over. And yet thanks to wonderfully detailed images and colors which solidify the cruelty of this scientist, readers cannot but be rewarded for their agonizing wait to finally witness how someone so beautiful can be so ugly inside. And yet as Britney and Avril come to terms of how the rules of this warped world are not so different than the twisted insanity that is man, who will truly be the Queen of the Jungle and will justice finally prevail?
Age Rating: T (for Teens)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: April 1st, 2020