World Comic Book Review

2nd March 2024

The Exterminators (revisited) – “Spare me the awesome burden of our last days oh lord”

Writer: Simon Oliver

Artist: Tony Moore

Vertigo Comics, 2006

DUMB FASCINATION AND HORROR propelled me through Issue 1 of THE EXTERMINATORS off a 10-cent rack, the pages crinkled with water damage, and a giant cockroach on the cover. The title appeared in thirty issues starting in 2006. Needing more, I carried around a stack of the first six issues and later teens, and carelessly creased one of the covers. It looked better. Then I lost the first draft of this review. Made it better. Dump it on. Evolving baby.

Consider this a reconnaissance into territory of daily life you might prefer to sweep under the rug. Author Simon Oliver debuts a strange scenery, guided by narration from one character to the next that dredges patches of oil from human dharma for fuel, sprinkled with shake ‘n bake Buddhism, literary nuggets, awesome visuals like entering a client’s house to find an obese woman who has been moored on the couch since 1992; and random visits on the street, overhearing a dealer on a stoop riff on the way chickens are caged and tortured for them fat legs and, he says, “it’s f*d-up, but like as a SOCIETY we ain’t turning down no cheap chicken meat.”

In the beginning, the main theme eases in with a flashback on the Antonine plague, which the author says arrived in Rome in 164, when the citizen peninsular army returned from fighting Persians in the East. Only recently did we achieve sensitivity to disease as a major factor in the collapse of civilizations as occurred to the Romans, and to the Chinook people along the Columbia River where I live, and other native Indian tribes not so long ago, due to waves of European pestilence. The death of millions in the Roman empire made room for barbarian descendants who no longer knew how to bake bread.

Ruminating on lost civilizations is startled back to the present with close-up scenes of scurrying bugs in a basement as the exterminator crew starts work. The dioramic imagery illuminated for me what plague might mean today in a way that had not occurred to me before.

A plagued past raises another ugly tendril in Issue 19, when the graphically convincing story explains how “hissers,” a species of giant cockroach endangered by slash-and-burn policies of the Mayans two millennia ago in Yucatan, evolved stronger to “f*ing HATE us.” This turns out to be a main theme.

Sparks keep glancing off this continuing story, often with a humor so droll it sort of rolls around like marbles in the bottom of a drawer, ha ha ha ha ha, crazy-like. The set has fantastic elements, yet it mostly looks like plain life in the material world. Co-creator artist Tony Moore and later artists Darick Robertson and Ty Templeton are notorious for such work in other strips, featuring dharma as we deserve it, casts of characters binding and unbinding, faces on faces and bodies gesturing, posing, and sometimes getting really mad and tearing things apart. The violence is comical, ha ha, but intense and abrupt, blam.

At an exterminator conference in one issue a presenter wows the audience by describing just such a mechanism for instant kill. Blam. Everyone applauds. Evolving baby.

The full specimen of thirty issues bulges with clichés and things we know, the kinds of foibles that make us laugh in a good comedy skit, ha ha, only this one impacts kind of crazy-like as an artifact of a horrible era of crime, with humanity itself chalked out as the unsuspecting victim. Blam.