Chris Ware continues his Rusty Brown story in the latest Acme Novelty Library, drawing out Rusty's troubled childhood among supporting characters like Chalky White and a Chris Ware who is not the author Chris Ware. Ware (the creator) continues to demonstrate his prowess as a designer (check out that textured cover for yourself) and storyteller through a handful of complex characters in a pretty straight-forward narrative.
This is a very multi-layered work. When Chalky asks Rusty if he wants his Supergirl back, that doll has taken on a resonance and means so much to Rusty: it embodies why he's such a lonely dork (as is also demonstrated by a scene with his sister earlier), his twisted sexual outlook, his warped worldview, and the connection that Chalky and Rusty have, as Chalky sees the Supergirl in the same manner as Rusty does, while no one else has that ability (as demonstrated by the children picking on Rusty for it later). It's also interesting how Rusty doesn't acknowledge Chalky's advances of friendship until after the latter mentions the doll out loud, and even then, Rusty isn't able to be upfront with him, but merely includes him in a performance of his fantasy.
My favorite characters to follow in this episode of the Rusty Brown saga were Alice White (Chalky's sister) and the disturbing Chris Ware. It was interesting to see people's reactions to new students introduced to the environment, and the compromises that Alice in particular makes to her integrity to be accepted, while Chalky goes out of his way to befriend the child he thinks he may have the most in common with even if it means being shunned a little (or a lot). I find it hard to sympathize with Rusty or his teacher, but that's okay because there are plenty of other characters around to grow attached to. And it's all very emotional and feels realistic, drawing you into this world of horrifying school drama, forcing you to experience the pain of that awkward age through these characters, and doing a damn fine job of it. We can all relate to some aspect of the story at hand, and Ware has a way of making it all come rushing back.
All that being said, I didn't enjoy this volume as much as Acme Novelty Library #16, perhaps because it ended so abruptly and didn't quite have the epic feel that an opening chapter has. It felt very much like a chapter. And I kind of wish that the scene from #16 where Rusty realizes that Chalky sees his Supergirl in his desk hadn't been followed up. I just loved that moment so much (although some great stuff came of that). But anyways, this installment certainly has me wondering what the finished product will be like (with such a slow build with so many interesting characters here), since later episodes from the characters' lives have been recorded in the Acme Novelty Library oversized hardcover. We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose. Either way, it's sure to be a fantastic achievement.
There are also some Branford the Best Bee In the World strips in the back of this book, following a cute little bee and his family, demonstrating his dirty little thoughts about the Queen, and binging on pollen. They were very odd...I wasn't really sure what to make of them. There was one panel in particular - the very last one - where Ware has to explain his joke with "Note: Such a discovery to a normal drone bee would be the equivalent of a human male waking up in a dress." It was kind of like reading a foreign comic. Some manga and even Virgin Comics have had to explain the joke after it's finished, and it's ruined the effect, so I wasn't really sure what Ware was trying to capture by this joke, except perhaps to make it seem foreign? Anyways, Acme Novelty Library #17 as a whole was very entertaining and, as usual, will undeniably stand out as one of the best offerings of the year. A