cover image The Heavy Bright

The Heavy Bright

Cathy Malkasian. Fantagraphics, $39.99 (340p) ISBN 978-1-68396-692-0

Malkasian (Percy Gloom) hurls readers into a feminist fantasy fictional universe that’s alternately baffling and all too familiar. In a patriarchal dystopia where the warmongering Commanders rule with iron fists and women are treated as chattel, Arna, the daughter of a traveling puppeteer, commits the double sin of being female and a queer practitioner of “gender deception.” An envoy from the spirit plane enlists Arna to rid the world of egglike objects that spark aggression. As her quest progresses, humanity becomes less warlike, but not less cruel. “Our life is crazy... but we’re the sanest people alive,” comments Arna’s girlfriend, Sela. Malkasian renders a world that feels lived-in, building every detail from the ground up: architecture, customs, religion, music. The fluid, confident art has a funhouse-mirror hyperreality, reminiscent of alternative cartoonists like Renee French and Dave Cooper, that adds a satirical sting. If the sociopolitical commentary is sometimes heavy-handed, the endlessly imaginative worldbuilding is more than enough to keep the pages turning. This smart, surrealist work has the appeal of Handmaid’s Tale crossed with Tim Burton. (Mar.)