Gear (Image Comics)

gearheaderCats and robots! Need I say more? Okay, how about cats and robots from the creator of Earthworm Jim?

 

 

160 pgs FC; $14.99

(W / A: Doug TenNapel)

 

In the mid-1990's, Doug TenNapel (Earthworm Jim, Creature Tech) decided to write a comic book based on his four cats. He imagined a world where his pets Simon, Gordon, Waffle, and Mr. Black were inept but brave warriors fighting in a great feline society against anthropomorphic dogs and giant insects. This comic, Gear, quickly gained a dedicated following during its initial release by Fireman Press, and is now a cult favorite. In this volume, Image presents all six issues of Gear for the first time in color.

 

TenNapel makes it clear from the beginning of the story that while the characters may appear cute and cuddly, the world they live in is violent and scary. In the first chapter, the cats face one of the guardians–giant, heavily armed robots–of a dog army. In the ensuing battle Simon, one of the cats, is killed. He does not return in Bugs Bunny fashion, but is really gone. His death sets the stage for the bloody war the characters will face.

 

The cover to Gear by Doug TenNapel. Click thumbnail for a larger image.The mythology of the world our heroes live in is quickly established in the next chapters. Gordon, Waffle, and Mr. Black fight for the Newton cats. There are also armies representing the dogs from Dogtown, the evil North Plate cats, and the insects of South Plate. All the factions are at war, and all have giant robots to protect them. Throughout the story, more and more is revealed about the "Forbidden Mechanism," which may be the only hope for the cats of Newton.

 

On the whole, Gear is a great story, and is surprisingly epic for its brief length–only six 24-page chapters. The characters are nicely developed and the uncertainty of their fates gives the book suspense. One would normally not expect a comic book about cats piloting giant robots to have a lot of depth, but TenNapel crams a lot into these pages. There some plot holes, especially in the first few chapters; this is explained by the words of TenNapel himself in the afterward to the story. "This is the first and only story I ever started where I didn't know where it would end before I started", he says. The problems are minor though, and shouldn't hurt a reader's enjoyment of the book.

 

Gear presented another first for the creator; it is his first book illustrated with a Japanese horsehair brush. With the distinctive brushwork the art is rough and somewhat chaotic, but adds a lot to the frantic tone to the book. The thick lines work with the dark subject matter, and bring the characters to life. The coloring is very vibrant and gives the art a sense of movement. Although the book was previously published in black and white, the coloring seems natural to the art, and not at all like an afterthought.

 

Readers may be aware that TenNapel developed a cartoon series called Catscratch for Nickelodeon based on the characters from Gear. The characters are about the only thing the two series share, however. Parents of young fans of the cartoon should be aware that Gear can't be considered an all-ages read, and should be avoided for kids too young to handle scenes of violence and war.

 

For adults though, Gear covers a lot of bases. Though it is somewhat flawed, this early work may lead readers to other books by Doug TenNapel. While readers extremely sensitive to violence may balk at some scenes, memorable characters and unique art make this cats and robots adventure worth a read. | Elizabeth Bolhafner

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