There are dozens and dozens of superhero comics out there featuring the smartest, the richest, the most adept, the most altruistic heroes saving the day, the world, and the universe on a daily basis. Those steep odds and huge stories can become old hat since they appear so often, which is why superhero fans feeling event fatigue should check out Apama the Undiscovered Animal.
Meet Ilyia Zjarsky, a regularly down on his luck man from Cleveland who drives an ice cream truck. His life changes after he learns of Apama, a ferocious animal that proved its dominance over other species, then disappeared forever. With this discovery, Ilyia also learns that the spirit of Apama can become a part of him, imbuing him with exceptional strength and agility. Once Ilyia becomes the Apama, he puts the powers to good use by helping people and fighting some really strange villains.
What makes Apama really good is that storytellers Ted Sikora (who is also behind Tap Dance Killer) and Milo Miller didn’t develop a readymade superhero story. Ilyia is an underachiever with no remarkable skills, a job that just pays the rent, and an unfulfilling social life. He doesn’t have the resources of a huge bank account, exceptional IQ, or infinitely wise mentor/guide. Superhero stories are rife with those conveniences, which gives Apama the room to ask a bunch of “what if” questions that should be explored more often in comics.
Those story elements track through the entire series, so far. Take his transition into Apama, he doesn’t get bitten by an animal, doused in a chemical, injected with a serum, or electrified by a perfect storm, and he’s definitely from “around here.” He gains the power of Apama by striking a particular pose and this doesn’t happen immediately or dramatically. Like life, it takes a while, and he earns the abilities through practice and determination.
Similar to Apama himself, the villains are also a bit offbeat. One had an origin story so amusing that it literally made me laugh out loud and another is weird and unsettling. They are creative and enjoyable, sometimes ridiculous and sometimes quite scary.
Benito Gallego’s art solidifies the tone of the book. The character renderings are fairly realistic, especially where Ilyia’s poses and movement are concerned. It’s also somewhat disproportionate with a few especially pointy angles and unattractive background players that go with the everything’s-normal-but-weird vibe. Gallego keeps each issue fresh with the panel variety, closeups and faraway shots, and structural breaks that set apart the expositional moments.
This story is all wrapped in a good sense of humor with a generally positive feel. Considering the guy with a crappy job and awkward social skills premise, it could’ve easily gone for a life is tough theme. Instead the creative team has used the good and bad sides of realism in the framework of a superhero story.
What Apama does well is engender affection for the good parts of superhero comics while simultaneously noting their flaws. This unexceptional guy finds something incredible and uses it to try to be a hero. It’s a sentiment that most readers can share were they in his shoes and is definitely worth checking out.
Apama the Undiscovered Animal is about 10 issues into the run, so there’s plenty of material. The title can be purchased as individual issues or in trade and each volume comes with extra goodies from the creative team.