The Heavy Hand is the graphic novel equivalent of a giant pile of multi-colored strings. Beautiful, yes. Amorphous, yes. Mysterious, yet. Can you trace where each string goes? Can you name the shape that the string congregation forms? Does understanding the complex mass even matter?
In this book, Chris C. Cilla has a distinctive visual style, creating a setting in a dream-like reality where humans and human-like animals coexist, and a variety of odd and potentially dangerous creatures live on the fringes. The story focuses on Alvin Crabshack, a mediocre, actually not so great, scientist and human who has gained a research position with a Professor Berigan in the Honeypot Caverns. To begin this research, Alvin must pick up his monotonous life in Dirksburg, leaving behind his ladies, Lily and Heather, and his current apartment, in the name of science.
After his goodbyes and false reminders that he will be back, Alvin boards a car with his root beer loving friend, Walter, to travel to the caverns, but Alvin’s move to his new working location completely halts when Walter abandons him at a gas station lacking gas but at least has some hot dogs. As Alvin waits for the friendly station owner to close up to give him a ride to the nearest bus station, Karl, a researcher for another professor in the caverns, appears. Karl is exactly what we expect of a scientist who spends most of his days in caverns; he’s a modern day environmentalist wearing an insignificant pro-Earth t-shirt paired with a cargo vest to hold all of his research tools. In the company of Karl and his clutter packed van, Alvin, an ordinary and indistinguishable dresser with a personality to match, already seems out of place.
In the van, Karl warns Alvin of strange, dangerous creatures in the caverns and explains to Alvin that the Professor Berigan is a reclusive, broke researcher with questionable sanity. Regardless, Alvin has his heart set on researching and studying with Professor Berigan, and Karl agrees to guide him to the professor’s lair. Upon arrival to the Honeypot Caverns, in order to get Alvin to Berigan’s lab, Karl tells his own professor, a pretty Doctor Corbett who has taken a liking to our Mr. Crabshack, that Alvin is a spelunker who lost his ride rather than the truth that he is the new research assistant of her foe. Alvin has longed for a career and a life with more excitement, but he has no idea what is in store for him.
Ranging from a wizard-appearing, obsolete technology-obsessed Professor Berigan to flying cyclops blobs to human-eating tentacled creatures to a strange house party with a giant eyeball in the middle of a desert, Alvin encounters much more than he could have anticipated on his new career turned journey where every turn leads into unfamiliar and maybe impossible territories. As the narrative strays and wanders, The Heavy Hand reveals itself as a psychedelic, science fiction, road story grounded by the secret normalcy cravings of our Alvin Crabshack.
By the end, Alvin Crabshack’s many peculiar, absurd, and psychedelic means meet a somewhat regular end. He’s doing some irrational, irregular things to pay his bills, but he is in a stable relationship with Doctor Corbett and living in a scenic town called Limberlost. He and Doctor Corbett conduct normal conversation between two people in a relationship, and Alvin even interacts with his ex-girlfriend Heather in a reasonable way when he runs into her. Despite his wayward path to his existence, Alvin does not want anything outside of normal human needs and does not achieve beyond them either.
At it’s heart, The Heavy Hand is the epitome of Emerson’s maxim: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Alvin’s journey may not translate into the most coherent novel (in fact, I am still deciphering the purpose of each fragment as I write this), but The Heavy Hand is a read with an abundance of absurdly entertaining and comedic creativity and style that will take you on a disorienting and hypnotizing ride. Let go of trying to find a message in everything you see, and The Heavy Hand will pull you right into its world of eyeballs, humans with dog heads, goats breaking out from glass globes, and a mysterious masked man who warns about the end of the world and prepares turkey for lunch.
The Heavy Hand by Chris C. Cilla is available now via Sparkplug Comic Books.