Ability, Comics, Critique

Regression’s First Volume Fails to Metamorphose

Regression Vol 1: Way Down Deep

Cullen Bunn (Writer), Danny Luckert (Artist), Marie Enger (Colors/Letters), and Joel Enos (Editor)
Image Comics
November 15, 2017

Insects have always been fertile soil for horror. Our minds recoil instinctively from their alien physiology and menacing stingers. Their touch poisons our thoughts with fantasies of infestation and disease. Their very presence suggests decay. Why, then, is the first volume of Cullen Bunn’s bug-obsessed Regression so psychologically inert? In short, because “bugs are gross” is about as far as the book gets into probing why we’re afraid of the world’s creepier, crawlier denizens.

Regression, Vol. 1. Image Comics, 2017

Bunn’s horror is talky, and Luckert’s thick, uncommunicative faces leave awkward dialogue to do the heavy lifting in establishing mood and character. Our first glimpse of the insect cult’s priestess in her monstrous form is perhaps the volume’s only memorable image. The rest is confined squarely to the realm of gross-out insectophobia, an aesthetic choice made without apparent concern for any connection to the story’s themes, such as they are. Worms and maggots drip from grinning lips, centipedes uncurl like tongues, and flies crawl over cheeks and fill the air in buzzing swarms.

Wooden lines like Whoever did this, I’ll feel better once they are the hell off my streets” pepper the installment. Bunn’s curious avoidance of contractions leaves his characters sounding stiff and robotic, and their actions aren’t much more believable. Adrian, the sort of chiseled, tortured everyman you might expect to star in a Call of Duty game, shares his brain with ye olde sociopath Sutter, a man who seems to exist solely to take up the space behind his own goatee. The interchangeable cops and Adrian’s absurdly calm and supportive friend, Molly, who takes him on an hours-long road trip just minutes after he murdered her friend in front of her, round out a cast for which it’s next to impossible to summon any interest.

The enormous personal risks Molly takes for Adrian might seem more compelling if we had any idea what their connection to one another is like. Regression, though, leaves their friendship feeling emotionally antiseptic even when Adrian is screaming at Molly in public or trying to kill her after-hours in the art gallery she manages. There’s precious little reason to care about a relationship so poorly defined and befuddling, and here it’s meant to be our emotional throughline. Despite the heavy debt Regression owes to creature features like Ridley Scott’s Alien, James Cameron’s even better follow-up Aliens, and the entire oeuvre of Canadian body horror trailblazer David Cronenberg, it’s totally lacking in the ugly and visceral insights those films offer into human nature.

With nothing original to show (seriously, that hypnosis staircase is straight out of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence) and nothing new to say about the old standards on display, the comic flounders. Adrian’s abduction by armed strangers in the book’s closing moments does little to rekindle faith that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Killing characters right at the crux of a story can be shocking and energizing, but if we don’t know who those people are, if we haven’t formed any sort of bond with them, it’s just more noise. In short, the prospect of reading more Regression sounds about as appealing as blowflies nesting under my skin.

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