In 2009 Kevin Cannon introduced the world to Army Shanks, a swashbuckling hero from the Canadian arctic. This reader's heart was melted by this frenetic and insanely funny (and, at the end, quite sad) tale, but then, it seemed, Army Shanks was to be heard of no more. After all, Kevin Cannon had other, more scholarly projects to pursue. Indeed, often with his frequent collaborator Zach Cannon, he has emerged as the go-to artist working in non-fiction comics, with books such as The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, and Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing.
So, comics fans rejoiced when Top Shelf announced in 2012 that Kevin Cannon would be returning to his break-neck fantastical storytelling with another installment of Army's adventures, initially serialized in the digital publication Double Barrel. And the new tale, Crater XV, is every bit as raucous, absurdly funny and moving as the first. Heck, it is better, because of Cannon is frankly a better cartoonist than he was when he started his experiment with Far Arden in 2008—his art now fully able to match his breathless storytelling chops.
A plot summary of Crater XV would stretch the limits of the short-review format (by many times over): more happens in a chapter of this book than happens in most epic films, and half the fun is watching how Cannon gets us from point A to point B even when the journey seems impossible. For fans of the first book, you will be relieved to know that it picks up after an appropriate period of grieving following the tragic events at the end of Far Arden. But the Shanks we meet here is a man transformed by those experiences, seemingly broken and defeated by the cards he has been dealt. As it happens, a young would-be astronaut named Wendy, the seeming return of his long-lost childhood girlfriend, a Russian tanker with a mysterious rocket, and of course the secret goings-on at Crater XV will all conspire to send Army off ricocheting through another series of improbable twists, turns and explosions.
If you have never heard of Army Shanks, read this now and thank me later. And if you're still not convinced, here's one more reason why: no one, but no one, does comic book sound effects like Kevin Cannon: