This installment of Rot & Ruin sees the kids attempting to claw their way out of the clutches of Farmer John and his indoctrinated. The amazing thing about the character of John is that at no point does he come off as an insane person. It’s amazing that despite how crazy he may seem, he’s always able to explain his position plainly without straying off in to madness or ranting. He’s either perfectly coherent, or he’s able to hide his insanity very well. It’s the fact that the reader is kept guessing about his state of mind that makes John work as a horrifyingly effective villain. He gives the impression that no part of what he’s doing is easy for him. He has a farmer’s mentality, and his answer to the apocalypse is based around that philosophy. It’s a genuine aspect of his character, that sets him apart from the other crazy, southern, patriarchal cult leaders (there is an embaressing amount of these, actually) that you usually see in stories about a zombie apocalypse. The teens also have a fair amount of charicterization in this volume, but Lilah steals the show. It’s refreshing that it’s a female character that’s being made out the be the most ferocious and physical fighter of a group. It’s a little detail, but it makes the group seem more well rounded. Unfortunately though, the scaled ends up getting tipped; and the few characters that end up with all of the focus take it away from the mass of the indoctrinated and soldiers. They lack the same level of characterization, and come off as just “bad guys”. They’re necessary to have a worthwhile piece of conflict for the characters to face, but the great characterization on both John and the kids makes the fact that the everyone else is lacking all the more glaring.
Visually there’s a lot more going on here, this time around. Tony Vargas’ art has always been great, but it really hits it’s stride in the action and fighting scenes. What amazes me though is how meticulously choreographed every scene is. Little details like characte positions and held items are constantly maintained from panel to panel. I was also happy to see the panel layout unfold a fair bit more dynamically. It’s a small detail that creates a rhythm for the story when the size of the panels also conveys the duration of the scene taking place within. It’s also the return of the more earthy brown color for the negative space. It better fits with the story’s aesthetic, and the fact that it’s less distracting makes it easier for the action to keep the reader’s undivided attention. All that put together, plus the direness, and more importantly the tone captured by the Vargas (pencils) and Arce (colors) combination, means the content of the story has an effective visual representation to adequately convey the desperation of the narrative.
All in all, Rot & Ruin #4 is solid. A lot is revealed about John’s perspective, and it steals the show with how sound it all seems to be. There’s some great action, that sees the return of the same level of severity of the first volume, and a cliffhanger that proves that no matter how bad things may seem, there’s still always a deeper level of hell. A great read for fans, but not a good jumping on point for newcomers (Go back and start on #1 you slackers!).