Originally appearing in the pages of Cud (Fantagraphics) in the mid 90’s and then in a three-issue miniseries for DC comics in 1998, Muktuk Wolfsbreath has found new life in the form of an online graphic novel by wizard of suburbia Terry LaBan. Part Neil Gaiman-esque fantasy, part Sam Spade detective novel, Muktuk Wolfsbreath: Hard Boiled Shaman follows the adventures of the eponymous hero as he plumbs the depths of the human soul in prehistoric Siberia.
What’s especially striking about this series is that, as its epigram suggests, throughout the proceedings LaBan pays loving tribute to the classics of the noir genre. Our first glimpse of Muktuk is that of a reluctant hero: down on his luck and haunted by his past. Then in a walks a beautiful woman with troubles of her own. Though Muktuk never spells it out in so many words, it’s easy to imagine Humphrey Bogart narrating the opening frames of the story with something along the lines of, “Of all the bearskin tents in all the tundras in all the world, she had to walk into mine…”
From there, things take a turn for the fantastic as Muktuk gets drawn into a bitter confrontation across spiritual planes with his rival, Umiak Birdbutt. The result is a wild hallucinogenic ride that’s light years away from LaBan’s more recent depictions of the foibles of suburbia in the daily Edge City comic strip. Indeed, if Edge City represents LaBan’s day job, then Muktuk Wolfsbreath is where the artist/writer goes at night — to dream, to dazzle, to go a little crazy, and — most of all — to explore. Here, we see an artist experimenting with forms, mixing and matching to create something new. What’s more, the fact that LaBan is giving it all away for free makes it all the more appealing.
All told, a funny, inventive, and intriguing comic.
–Review by Marc Schuster