Commissioned post for Shane deNota-Hoffman. Thanks as always for backing, Shane!
And now a third take on animals attacking humans.
We’ve seen violent animals as the grotesque, a worrying violation of the social order that unsettles and disturbs us. We’ve seen violent animals as throwaway victims of human control, depicted as less grotesque because “only” their behavior, rather than their bodies, has been violated. Now we have animals as an oppressed underclass.
This is not the first time animals have been depicted as such. War with the Newts, by Karel Capek of R.U.R. fame, depicted the titular species of intelligent amphibians as victims of human colonization and exploitation, who then turned against and conquered the colonizers, only to repeat the cycle. Similarly, the animals in Animosity vol. 1, by Insexts writer Margeurite Bennett, are suddenly granted not only intelligence, but human intelligence and understanding–and more to the point, the animals we see (all of them American) seem to share a basically Western outlook. The result is, inevitably, violence, as humans and animals alike seek to draw lines against the Other.
Against this backdrop, the comic centers the close relationship of the bloodhound Sandor and the young human girl Jesse, whom he is determined to get across the country to her older brother in San Francisco, after (it is heavily implied) either killing her parents or persuading her that they’re dead in revenge for his abuse at the hands of her father. Jesse is a kind and giving child, and Sandor is fierce in his love for her, which (much like the relationship at the heart of Insexts) helps carry a comic that could otherwise be a bit didactic.
Which is a good thing, because the lessons here need badly to be learned. As is often the case with oppressed classes, animals outnumber humans massively, and once they attain consciousness of who they are and how they’ve been treated, humans have no chance of stopping them. Happily, the comic isn’t that focused on said treatment–this isn’t Grant Morrison writing yet another “animal rights” screed–but rather on how the survivors feel about it, and what they do with that anger. The comic is, in other words, less interested in the rather silly question “What if animals are people?” and much more interested in “What if animals became people?”
As Sandor describes and the negotiations in New York confirm, the animals mostly don’t actually care much about what happened beforethe Wake; what matters is that in the moment of acquiring consciousness, they became an oppressed class, and at the same moment realized their power and acted to end that oppression.
But, again, the consciousness they attained was a basically Western one rooted in the us-them divide. Animals became the new Other to humans, and humans the Other to animals. When Sandor acts to protect Jesse in the chaotic massacre the New York negotiations degenerate into, Oscar doesn’t see a member of his family protecting his daughter from a dangerous killer; he sees an animal killing a human, and reacts violently, treating Sandor as a threat rather than a protector.
Meanwhile, by defining themselves as an in-group, animals immediately begin othering each other. The mutinous members of the Animilitary justify themselves by demanding meat instead of substitutes, but the one who declares this is a koala, an entirely herbivorous species. Their rebellion is against Mimico, who is insufficiently revolutionary in their eyes, a difference which marks her as Other and therefore as an enemy in their eyes. It’s a pattern I’ve seen played out again and again in leftist and queer spaces, gatekeeping turned to Othering of those who don’t make the cut, turned to infighting that leaves all involved more vulnerable and less able to resist the real oppressor. The result is sadly predictable: the animals fight each other, and the humans fight them, and a scant few escape with Jesse and Sandor.
The arc closes out with a look at Jesse’s brother’s experience, which goes the other way: instead of degenerating into a chaotic free-for-all, the animal takeover in San Francisco was orderly and thorough, with humans like Adam who are “vouched for” by an animal–in his case, by a seal whose life he saved on the day of the Wake–essentially tagged and kept as prisoners. This is the War With the Newts outcome, the straightforward reversal of fortune, with the oppressor becoming the oppressed and vice versa.
Of course, those are always the arguments made against revolution: that it will lead to chaos worse than the current order, or that it will result in mere inversion and a new underclass. By using animals as a stand-in for all oppressed classes and marginalized identities, and realistically depicting the resulting problem that carnivores must choose between murder and starvation, the comic acknowledges that there is no perfect solution. Someone will always oppress someone else.
The question–the big one, the only political question really worth asking in the long run–is whether that oppression can be minimized and made temporary.
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