The Hive is the sequel to X-ed Out, which I wrote on about a month ago (click here to see that review). Again, this graphic novel was loaned to me by a friend. This one had pretty much the same strengths and weaknesses as the first volume.
Again, we join Doug, a troubled art student who can’t seem to find meaning in life, but who comes alive in a bizarre nightmare world he enters when he sleeps. In this volume, he’s found a job in the hive where female breeders live, though we don’t see what it is they’re breeding. He’s even located the woman he had seen earlier and knew he had to follow. She stays in something like a hospital bed all the time, and speaks of her fears that soon she’s be like the women she hears in the other rooms, screaming all through the night. He brings her a series of romance comics she enjoys, and we even get to read a couple pages from one. As you might expect, it’s as surreal and sinister as the rest of his nightmare world.
Meanwhile, in his waking life, Doug is now dating the girl he liked in the first volume, so he’s progressed a little. Also, his haranguing father has passed away, which seems to free him a little psychologically. But the girlfriend has an ex-boyfriend who leaves them threatening phone messages, and his discovery of a box of photos of his father’s life before he has born, when his father seemed happy and not to have entered the unemployed-depressive period Doug remembers, does little for his self-esteem.
As before, the dream sequences were the best. The hive world is cool and creepy. This time around, we’ve already seen its bizarre lizard and feral pig inhabitants, but we’re starting to get a better sense of how things work, in a dream-logic sort of way. I really like the art in these sections: the forbidding mix of industrial landscape and east Asian village, the toxic caves that make up the interiors of buildings, the sushi made of fish you really, really don’t want to eat.
And still, Doug’s waking world is less interesting. Doug himself is still passive-aggressive, and not a very likable person. He lacks the energy and drive to really improve his situation, and wants everyone to think well of him without being willing to actually be a good person. There are signs he’s starting to break out of his deep-freeze, but if I were his frustrated girlfriend, I wouldn’t bother waiting around for him. Indeed, it seems to me she’s with him less because he’s interesting and more because he might offer some sort of protection against her ex.
I feel like we’re about halfway through or so, and I expect Charles Burns’s next volume will finish up the story. I’m interested enough in seeing how the nightmares work out that I might accept a loan of the third volume, whenever it comes out, but I probably won’t seek it out on my own.