Kid Lobotomy #1
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Tess Fowler and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by IDW Publishing/Black Crown
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
When it comes to Kid Lobotomy, perhaps the most defining moment in this series’ first issue is a line about lyrics, as an old man struggles with a song whose lines refuse to get out of his head. “It doesn’t even make sense!” the old man cries. “I don’t think it has to,” his nurse responds.
Ultimately, that line may be the best reflection of Black Crown’s debut work, a wild mishmash of ideas that might not necessarily gel as a narrative, as much as a collection of moments that try to elicit some sort of feeling out of its readers. Part psychological exorcist, part washed-up rock star, 100% screw-up and an undeniable enigma, Kid Lobotomy feels less like a story and more like a song - if it happens to resonate with you, you’ll likely be in for the long haul, but otherwise, it’s the kind of track that feels imminently skippable.
In certain aspects, there’s hints of Matt Fraction’s Casanova or Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy in Peter Milligan’s work, which mixes together paranoia and devil-may-care anarchy with equal aplomb. But whereas Casanova and Umbrella Academy each had bigger stories on their hands - dealing with messed-up family dynamics while also looking to save the world - Kid Lobotomy doesn’t have those kinds of lofty aspirations. At least not yet. Instead, this book is pretty grounded as far as its stakes go - after suffering a nervous breakdown as a rock star, the titular Kid has become the manager of an unsettling hotel called the Suites, where he moonlights as a pioneering lobotomist. That is, when he’s not having hallucinations or semi-incestuous dalliances with a shapeshifter morphed into his sister.
If that last line threw you, well, that’s par for the course for Kid Lobotomy, which has a bit of schizophrenia with its meandering story and somewhat self-indulgent imagery. In that regard, this book’s classic Vertigo roots are showing, but it feels more surface-level than the enduring stories like Sandman, Animal Man or Transmetropolitan - incongruous beats like having zombies, ghosts and grotesque floating fishes in the hotel lobby feel like window dressing rather than anything specific to build up the setting or the story. Is this all in Kid’s head? Is there something a little bit more substantial going on? There’s bits of King Lear, of Dadaism, of Kafka, but it almost feels like glitter put on paper without the glue - it’s certainly shiny, but none of it seems to stick.
Part of this is also because artist Tess Fowler strives to be as ambitious as Milligan, but I don’t think she’s quite there yet with her composition or expressionwork. Some of this is of course a matter of personal taste - I’m sure people like Darick Robertson or Steve Dillon were getting the same sorts of critiques when Transmetropolitan and Preacher were coming out, and those books were legendary. And while Fowler delivers some killer panels like Kid standing in nothing but Union Jack speedos, black boots and a harp, or Kid walking behind his sister and Big Daddy down the hotel’s ominous corridors, by and large the finished work still feels a little rough around the edges, such as panels introducing Kid’s love interest Ottla or an old man contorting his body as he rages against the lyrics in his mind. Sometimes her panels just feel a little too tight, while other characters, such as Kid himself, lose a lot of their expressiveness thanks to overrendering. Colorist Lee Loughridge, however, gives the book a great sense of mood, particularly a barroom scene set in purples, or a great panel of Kid puking his guts out that is contrasted in shades of green.
But that’s the thing about music - you have to be in the right mood for it. I think Kid Lobotomy is certainly trying something in that regard, trying to make you feel something more than getting pulled into any one storyline or narrative - I’m just not sure if the actual output can catch up with these lofty goals and undeniable expectations. If you’re looking for the next Vertigo, right now, this isn’t it - Kid Lobotomy is something a bit more impressionistic, a lot more avant garde, perhaps even a bit more self-indulgent. Only time will tell if this comic will settle into something a little more traditional, or if it will carry its out-there sensibilities, Direct Market trends be damned.