Pitiful Human-Lizard #12
Creator: Jason Loo
Publisher: Chapterhouse Comics
A review by Billy Seguire
The last time we checked in on Pitiful Human-Lizard, Jason Loo’s quirky vision of Toronto was a city in isolation. That’s changed since recent developments, with Chapterhouse now deep into its second wave of Canadian superhero comics set in a shared universe, Lizard-included. While other series might have used this momentum to give a fresh introduction to the main hero, what Loo does with this current issue instead exposes new readers to the heart of the series in a refreshingly unexpected divergence from the main story. Pitiful Human-Lizard #12 takes the loss of a friend as an opportunity to reminisce on the origins of the Majestic Rat, crafting an emotional, unexpected tribute to a minor character in a way that convincingly spotlights the comic’s core themes.
The flashback is framed around the funeral for Carter and Gruber, a rat and alligator from the Kenneth’s original enclave, both of whom gave their lives for the cause in The Pitiful Human-Lizard #10. With this passing, death becomes a presence in Pitiful Human-Lizard in a way few of the Chapterhouse titles have approached so far. The fact that Loo takes the entire issue to acknowledge that fact and mourn the loss of one of our own is commendable. While you could argue these were “just animals” in the grand scheme of things, the way the comic plays out as a legitimate tribute issue for Carter in particular speaks volumes to the creator’s intent. This matters. There’s true emotional weight to the way the characters gather around the Viking-esque ritual of departure, and the story’s spectrum of emotion truly shows how far the Majestic Rat has come.
One of the strongest aspects of this origin story is how grounded and unspectacular it really is. Introduced early on in Pitiful Human-Lizard’s run, Majestic Rat was always a signifier of the “small time” superhero, the mold that Lucas would eventually find a way to rise above. Seen here as a pet store cashier, the major notes of this issue establish Kenneth as a decent human being and friend to animals. Anyone familiar with the retail working experience will empathise with Kenneth’s plight of dealing with ignorant customers. He argues with a woman why a gerbil needs a cage and not an aquarium and is told that he’s losing the sale. Over and over again, however, we’re exposed to the depressing nature of how people will treat their animals when they simply don’t care about anything other than their own needs, and how that mistreatment eventually contributes to the breaking point that causes Kenneth to leave the pet store life behind, taking only Carter and Mullinick home with him..
In many ways, Kenneth’s origin could have been the origin of a supervillain, a humanity-hating animal rights activist with a history of being taken for granted, but Loo twists that narrative by saying kindness is antithetical to creating evil and building empathy into Kenneth’s heart, separating the Majestic Rat from a character like Poison Ivy by his very nature. We see his goodness throughout the issue in small moments like not even accepting a toonie for carrying out an older woman’s dog chow. In the face of an uncaring, unsympathetic world, the Majestic Rat rises above. As we see him develop and grow to super-status in a montage, one thing is made absolutely clear. Kenneth is special. The Majestic Rat’s superpower is merely that he is kind.
Looking at the form of the comic, there were some seriously nice narrative beats in this issue that showcase just how much the depth of the comic has grown since its launch in 2015. Lucas arriving late to the funeral, in costume, is a great way for the title character of this book to support his friends in an issue that isn’t about him at all. To have him come in too early would have overshadowed Majestic Rat’s story, but to have him not come would have sent the message that these deaths were unimportant. Instead, Lucas arrives and treats the night with the utmost respect. It seemed like Loo’s way of acknowledging that among these characters, the Human-Lizard is an inspiration. Having him say a few words gave Carter a send-off befitting a comic book legend. When Lucas throws his keychain and sinks the memorial boat, it’s a great comedy moment as well, painful and exactly in the comic’s tone.
Artistically, Jason Loo continues to create a genuine experience for the reader. Rather than larger-than-life icons, these are characters who would believably eat cereal for lunch if given the opportunity. Looking at designs like the pet store manager and customers, Loo has an aptitude not only for diversity, but for face and body-types that aren’t typically seen in comics. Everyone is drawn with shape and posture that mirrors what you see in the real world. At the same time, this comic has always been true to classic comic book tropes, and the retro-flavoured colours call to mind an old Marvel book, better preparing you for the actual “spectacular” elements that pepper Pitiful Human-Lizard and this super heroic version of Toronto. Little touches like the blurb about reading more on Carter’s death in the last issue help sell this style. It’s both of these elements combined that give Pitiful Human-Lizard its unique flavour.
One of my favourite pages in Pitiful Human-Lizard #12 played with an experiment in panel layout. Loo uses the silhouettes of the rats to give the panels an interesting form that flowed naturally between each image. This spread completely captures Loo’s offbeat little world. A page earlier, I loved the evolution of Majestic Rat’s costume. It implied not only a real world history for these characters, but a comic book history, playing with imagery and ideas where Pitiful Human-Lizard has always held a strength. Rather than feel cheated as the story catches us up through a montage, I got the sense that there was so much more story there than one issue alone could hope to tell.
The shift of Pitiful Human-Lizard from a quarterly to monthly series is what gets me most excited about Pitiful Human-Lizard #12. I can sometimes become a bit of an accidental trade-waiter when there are so many books coming out in sporadic increments, and this is a series I would highly recommend following as it develops. It feels great to feel invested in an ongoing superhero series that gives so much real-world potential to its characters. The choice to carry on a “relaunch” with an offbeat reminiscence of a rat shows a loyalty to readers not to abandon these characters they care about in their time of need, especially for the sake of marketing. Pitiful Human-Lizard feels like such a personal, creator-driven story that I am thrilled to be supporting this world.
Buy It! If the intention of Pitiful Human-Lizard is to show off a B-level superhero, the Merciful Rat is C-level at best, but Jason Loo gives Kenneth a nobility of character that forces you to take his story seriously. If you follow Loo’s work regularly, you know his strengths are in the relationships between his characters and his love for old school comic book tropes, and Pitiful Human-Lizard #12 goes even further down each of those paths, launching the now-monthly series with heart, nobility, and unstoppable kindness.