First published back in April of 2018, the SST Publications graphic novel ‘Beetles!’ was written by Dustin LaValley with artwork by Daniele Serra.  The graphic novel was published in a deluxe oversized limited edition hardback, which was signed by LaValley and Serra.  The publication was limited to just 100 copies (each hand-numbered on the signature sheet).

The graphic novel also includes the original frame-by-frame script for the story by Dustin LaValley.

DLS Synopsis:
Their chance meeting happened in the city library.  They’d both been reaching for the same book – H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds’.  Instantly they felt a connection with each other.  A feeling of attraction and comfort in each other’s presence.

At the very same moment, a large asteroid came soaring down from the sky, crashing into the busy street directly outside the library.  Within seconds the asteroid flared with an eye-searing white flash of light, as onlookers stared in baffled wonderment at what they had just witnessed.

Caught up in their own little world, the couple walked out of the library hand-in-hand, oblivious to the havoc that had erupted mere meters away from them.  They continued on to have a meal together, sitting at an outside table, before moving on to catch a film at the cinema.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to the lovestruck couple, all hell was breaking loose across the streets of the very same city.  Erupting out from the asteroid, two colossal flesh-hungry Rhino Beetles burst forth, towering over the buildings of city skyline.

Accompanying the gigantic Rhino Beetles were swarms of dog-sized Stag Beetles; faster than their larger counterparts, but equally as hungry for devastation.

In the blink of an eye, the city is thrown into an all-out war with the invading Beetles from outer space.  Buildings will fall, and countless civilians and soldiers will succumb to the ever-hungry inter-galactic bugs.  And all the while, the two lovers are wrapped up in each other’s company, blissfully unaware of the war that rages on around them…

DLS Review:
Well, this one’s a lot of fun.  With his short black and white graphic novel, writer Dustin LaValley has set about delivering an action-packed creature feature in homage to the classic sci-fi films of the 1950’s.  Absolutely everything about the story is modelled on these much-loved B-Movie greats.  The tongue-in-cheek wafer-thin plot, which lays down the quickest, easiest possible explanation for the invasion, before commencing with the good stuff that the story’s all about.

The handling of the two parallel running storylines – the action-packed monster movie creature feature, and the story of the young couple’s romance – is executed flawlessly.  The story jumps back and forth between the two narratives throughout, with snippets of each side of the story appearing in and around each other.

It’s obviously all wildly far-fetched.  Not only the idea of the gigantic beetles crashing down to Earth and commencing a blood-thirsty invasion, but also that this young couple could remain completely obvious to everything occurring around them.  But that’s a big part of the joy here.  The suspense of disbelief.  To just go along with the wackiness of this gloriously over-the-top story and bask in the exaggerated juxtaposition of the two wildly different sides of the story.

It’s only a relatively short tale, running for just twenty pages, so the story’s not going to deliver too many twists and turns.  Instead, LaValley sticks to the basics, the timeless traditions of such monster movies, to deliver an effective finale seeing mankind fight back utilising the best weapons they have against such colossal bugs – an insectile bomb.  Oh yes, this is all very ‘Night Of The Crabs’ (1976), in all the very best ways.

Furthermore, the homages to the writer’s love of 1950’s sci-fi horror movies don’t end with the invading beetles from outer space.  It’s great to see little nods of recognition to films such as ‘Them!’ (1954) and ‘Die, Monster, Die! (1965) spotted amongst the chaos and carnage.  Mini Easter Egg treats for fans of the genre.

Daniele Serra’s illustrative artwork to the piece is first-rate.  His distinctive, rough and flamboyant inkwork draws the eye into the detail, to ensure you’re not missing an iota of the action.  Admittedly, some aspects of the unfolding horror can be somewhat lost to his style, such as when a Stag Beetle is chomping off the arm from a hapless civilian.  Only when you go on to read LaValley’s original script do you realise these little details, making you flick back to the scenes again, to enjoy the havoc a second time around with added insight.

Having the original script accompany the comic is definitely a massive bonus.  Here we can flick back and forth, seeing what LaValley envisioned in his typed script, and comparing it to Serra’s final illustrations.  The script is literally done frame-by-frame, chock-a-bloc full of intricate details of LaValley’s vision for the comic.  As you’d expect, there are a handful of small changes, where Serra hasn’t necessarily stayed to the detail of the script.  However, for the most part, LaValley’s original script remains a frame-by-frame written version of the final graphic novel.

My only gripe, and this one’s probably just a personal preference, is with the somewhat cartoon-like faces applied to the Rhino Beetles.  Reading LaValley’s script, this did not come out at all.  In fact, when reading LaValley’s original vision, I pictured the gigantic beetles to be hugely enlarged versions of actual rhino beetles (i.e. with huge shielded horned heads, without any easily identifiable eyes).  Personally, I would have preferred this so much more than the cartoonish rhino features applied to the gigantic beasts.  But maybe that’s just me.

Nevertheless, for a short, fast-paced fun-filled read ‘Beetles!’ delivers the city destroying goods in abundance.  There’s enough mayhem and carnage to satisfy 1950’s monster movie fans.  The double-streamed plot complements the monster movie narrative perfectly, giving the story a fuller, more compelling draw to an otherwise simplistic storyline.  The artwork is as flamboyant as the plot, giving the comic an energetic and urgent feel to every scene.  And it’s all presented in such a deluxe, lovingly prepared publication.

The graphic novel runs for a total of 36 pages, of which the comic takes up 20 pages and the script takes up 16 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Copies of the SST limited edition hardback of ‘Beetles!’ can be purchased directly from the publisher here.



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