The Mice: The Factory Menace
Written and drawn by Roger Mason
Published by Scar Comics
The opening scene of The Mice is one of the most perfectly-designed sucker punches I've seen in years. You spend several panels being carefully introduced to the cast of characters, in a setting that's intensely familiar, only to have what you think you know snatched away from you. That willingness to upend a reader's expectations lies at the heart of what Roger Mason is trying to do with the book and he succeeds admirably.
At an undetermined point in the future, aliens invade and we lose. We never see the war, we never see the aftermath but we're shown why we lost so convincingly almost straight away; the aliens are massive, and we're the size of rodents to them, hence the title. The world has been taken over by giants and we're reduced to living in the cracks between their floorboards, fighting a war where the enemy views us as little more than a nuisance. It's a simple, wonderfully pulpy concept and Mason puts the cherry on top with the battleground the characters meet on; a single production line at a soup factory, where the cans are so huge multiple humans can ride in them.
This is the genius of the book, setting the desperate battle for survival around something so mundane because it drives home just how little we matter. Forget the power plants and control centres of traditional SF, Mason's human freedom fighters' big idea is to poison cans of soup. This isn't just a world we lost, this is a world where we don't even matter anymore. Mason drives this home in the first chapter with a chilling sequence which features two of the leads desperately trying to rescue a third from a huge vat of soup as the aliens go on about their business, content that they've eradicated the pests. Life and death and bean soup combine, and the punchline to the scene is both horrific and features some of the best art in the book.
The second chapter presented here neatly shifts perspective a little and introduces us to the aliens. As the events of the first story lead to the factory potentially losing a major contract, we follow hard pressed line chief Cota and his handyman, Goon, as they frantically try and keep the line running whilst setting an alien cat on the humans and keeping the clients from Solar Market happy. Cota is every inch the harried manager, whilst Goon is an amiable, loyal and slightly over enthusiastic sidekick. They're a perfect comedy duo, and their frantic attempts to keep both the cat and the humans out of sight of their clients are genuinely funny and weirdly endearing. The aliens may have taken the planet, but they've inherited our old problems and seem worse at handling them than we are. It's strangely reassuring…
…Unlike the “cat”, a two-legged ball of black-furred murder that the human characters spend the second chapter frantically trying to deal with. The cat is a real physical threat and the casual way human characters are killed by it only drives this home. It's also neatly used to, again, drive home the futility of scale that the humans face. It's something to be avoided rather than faced, and the moment a character confronts it is rife with tension and palpable physical threat.
Mason's black and white art does an excellent job of not only portraying the book's complex and unusual scale, but also the fragility of its main characters. He's got a nice eye for splash pages and pacing too, with the closing, brutal, punchline of chapter one and the cat's second attack in chapter two both standouts. His design work's nicely handled too, especially the cat. If there's a weakness it's that sometimes the alien characters look too similar but even that, arguably, ties into the book's parody of mundane factory life, albeit on a Godzilla-sized scale.
This is smart, incredibly bleak science fiction of the sort that seems to have a natural home in the UK thanks to 2000AD and its ilk. Big on ideas and action, but small in stature, The Mice is a highly unusual post-apocalyptic story and one that 2000AD fans in particular shouldn't be without. Just don't try the soup...