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Crisis Zone (review)

Writer and artist: Simon Hanselmann

Fantagraphic Books, 2021

For those of us who have small children, Meg and Mog might be a bedtime ritual with bifurcated effects. The series, involving a witch, her cat, and a owl, started in 1972. Despite being regarded as children’s classics, the books are completely inane, guaranteed to amuse three year olds and solidly mind-numb adult storytellers.

Which makes what Australian creator Simon Hanselmann has done all the more amusing. Crisis Zone is the latest in a run of parodies featuring “Megg” and “Mogg” and Owl. In this vision, Mogg (a complete dick, to use the vernacular) and Meg (an anxiety-ridden hopeless case) are romantically involved. Owl is the only person with half an idea. None of the cast are stable individuals, to say the least. The series started as a webcomic on Mr Hanselmann’s Instagram, and has now been published as a completed work.

Here is the blurb from publisher Fantagraphics:

In March 2020, as the planet began to enter lockdown, acclaimed cartoonist Simon Hanselmann decided that what the world needed most was free, easily accessible entertainment, so he set out to make the greatest webcomic ever created! The result is also certain to be one of the most acclaimed and eagerly anticipated graphic novels of 2021.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continued to escalate far beyond any reasonable expectations, Crisis Zone escalated right alongside, in real time, with daily posts on Instagram. Crisis Zone’s battle mission was to amuse the masses: no matter how horrible and bleak everything seemed, at least Werewolf Jones wasn’t in your house! Over the course of 2020, Crisis Zone has amassed unprecedented amounts of new fans to the Megg and Mogg universe and is presented here, unabridged and uncensored, with a slew of added pages and scenes deleted from the webcomic, as well as an extensive “Director’s Commentary” from Hanselmann himself.

Watch Megg attempt to bury herself in a digital world of escapism! See Mogg fall down the rabbit hole of paranoia and conspiracy theories! Experience Owl’s metamorphosis from timid and uptight worrywort to a no-holds-barred, asskicking leader and back again! Witness Werewolf Jones’s journey from reluctant erotic performer, to viral TikTok stardom, to Netflix sensation! Bouncing rapidly between comedy, horror, action, and relational soap-operatics, Crisis Zone refuses to take the pedal off the gas as we all hurtle towards unknown destinations.

The title is completely disgusting and ridiculous. It features amongst other things repeated drug use, vomit, live-streamed anal sex, violent assault, torture, and prison rape. Several times your valiant reviewer had to put the collected work down, hide it from his children, and walk away. Notwithstanding the subject matter, it is somehow unrelentingly funny, perhaps more so because it involves the stupid characters from the children’s books recast as some sort of contemporary version of The Young Ones. Werewolf Jones in particular is a vile, unlikeable character who reminds us of Danny McBride in the 2013 movie This is the End.

This is not the first pandemic-inspired comic we have reviewed. It is tempting to try and intellectualise the story. Is this just an expression of the bleak uncertainty and panic which manifested with the Covid-19 pandemic started spreading? The characters in this story do not just hoard toilet paper and buy supermarket trolleys of pasta: they devolve into violent and immoral anarchy.

Some of the dialogue is poignant and relatable. Werewolf Jones is released from jail because Covid is ripping through the population of inmates. He is homeless, destitute, and lost his children. It is Christmas:

Werewolf Jones: Oh… okay… I see how it is.. steal my kids, steal my life –

Owl: Hey! You forced them onto me! I didn’t choose this!… but I’m damn well gong to do it properly!

Werewolf Jones: … fine… I’ll just go die under a fucking underpass or something. Don’t worry about me… who cares, yeah?

Owl: >sigh<… Look, I’ll Paypal you some cash. Get a room somewhere, get a hot meal.

Owl goes inside.

Megg: Who was it, Owl?

Owl: What? Oh, nobody… Just some… maskless carolers… I – I told them to fuck off….

Megg [looking angry, walking away]: Good.

Owl [brimming with despair]: Yeah….

Werewolf Jones deserves no sympathy. Yet Mr Hanselmann somehow makes us feel sorry for him. Owl is doing the right thing, but it comes at a cost. We respect Owl for his conscience and anxiety.

And we also have this keen insight into how many people reacted to the Covid outbreak: uncertainty, misunderstanding, worry about the future, the absence of confidence in the media caused by the likes of Facebook’s echo chambers:

“I just found out about this sounds serious… I think? … I heard it was fake news… but maybe that news was fake news:? I-I don’t know what to think…>cough<. “

But, our conclusion is that Crisis Zone is not some contemporary Candide. Crisis Zone is entertaining exercise in college humour puerile filth, punctured by reflection on the maladies of life in our crazy contemporary times.

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