Have you ever wanted something to be better than it was? I mean really wanted something to better? Something you don't have any personal investment in but once you get through it all you can think is, "Man, I really wish that was better." That sentiment was all that stayed in my head after reading The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizza Boy, a new graphic novel from Dark Horse written by Filipe Melo and illustrated by Juan Cavia. This book was a blind buy for me at my local shop, something where I saw the cover and then read the title and without even realizing it I bought it without a second thought. I'm aware enough of my own tastes that I knew that I was clearly, CLEARLY, this book's target audience even to the point where I had actual thought before reading, "A big old-fashioned supernatural genre mash up filled to the brim with monsters set in Portugal? How could this possibly go wrong!?" Turns out those are famous last words for a reason because although The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizza Boy wasn’t bad, it wasn’t particularly good either. Obviously there were a few things that didn't work for me with this book. But weirdly enough I thought the biggest was that it felt way too much like a comic book trying to be a genre movie. (An issue we seem to have a lot on this site. Perhaps we should look into this as an industry trend...) Our de-facto protagonist (and titular Pizza Boy) is Eurico who after losing his delivery scooter ends up seeking the help of Lisbon's only occult investigator, Dog Mendonca (one guess on why he's named Dog) and along with Dog's seven year old girl assistant that's possessed by a demon, they try to seek out the scooter. Soon Pizza Boy learns that their is a whole subculture of monsters living right alongside us. Things quickly get out of hand from there. Now something to keep in mind I suppose is that a reason for it feeling too much like a genre movie is probably because the script was originally intended to, you guessed it, create a genre movie. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem for me personally as I'm pretty sure I'm on record somewhere, or at least I will be now, that when it comes to this sort of stuff my gut belief is that a storyteller should be allowed to use whatever medium they want to tell their story. If the medium should change from film to comics that does not make it inherently nefarious.
The problem with switching mediums though is when the script doesn't really work as a comic book because it's not using the medium's strengths. It's still working within the mental confines of a low-budget movie. This isn't really a hugely valid criticism, I know. Author Filipe Melo even goes into it a bit in the back matter. But it just bugged me that they couldn't do another draft or two once they realized they were going to make this story a comic and maybe try to build to its strengths. Arguably, they do sort of incorporate a couple of things specific to the comic book genre, including a gag with the word ballons when the main characters were hanging upside down and the words switched upside down accordingly. I get the idea, but it was less interesting as it was campy once a conversation started with some standing characters that had me twisting the book multiple times and the experience promptly ripped me out of the book. Ultimately, aside from a couple of cool scenes and interesting ideas (that didn't really get pursued as I would have hoped), the plot is just really cookie cutter, and clearly still taking cues from stuff like Dylan Dog, Hellboy, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All good comics mind you, but already done. Sometimes using those kinds of influences can work, but here it just sort of becomes a mess. A ultimately fun mess, but a mess nonetheless.
Cavia's art doesn't drag the book down by any means although it does have some problems, the least of which being that he adds, possibly indadvertedly, to the feeling of this book trying to be something else by making Dog look eerily similar to Ron Perlman. Ignoring that his art is effective if not incredibly refined, he was clearly brought on to the book for both his aptitude for monstrous action and putting detail where it counts. This attention to detail is especially strong within the city of Lisbon. The setting has a great feeling of authenticity. He's actually given two big splash pages to show off both of those strengths. One shows a damn near breathtaking look at the nocturnal urban landscape of Lisbon (which oddly enough looks a lot like San Francisco which makes me wonder if that was what Cavia was drawing from but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because it looks so good). The other is a giant monster brawl showcasing one of the more improbable third act rescues that practically looks like a wraparound cover to an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.
His overall style sort of swings wildly from traditionally structured European horror comics with deep shadows and the occasional sense of claustrophobia, to broad body language found in comedic anime, which overall makes it pretty effective stuff for this kind of story. If there is a problem it's one that wasn't his fault. For me, the book's coloring (Santiago Villa) really brought it down. I've come to expect dark colors from horror books, given that they usually take place in the dark, but even putting it charitably the colors just make the art look muddled and undefined. On more than one occasion I had the book under two lamps just to figure out what I was looking at, and if not for the inking I might not have understood certain beats at all. But ultimately, though it doesn't flow as well as it could, the art never devolves into anything truly awful and although Cavia isn't reinventing the wheel, he makes the book work as well as he can.
Look I understand that creating genre fiction is hard, but that difficulty should give way to something new and exciting even if it does have the shades of what came before. Instead, more often than not, these type of books fall into traps that make things less part of a story than recalling something cool from another work and here, it seems to be done almost gleefully. It doesn't necessarily fall into the "Reference - Reference - Genre Trope - Reference - Genre Trope - Genre Trope" style that's inherent in a lot of genre fiction, but it does come close. And although I might not have a huge problem with a screenplay becoming a comic in all cases, even I have to admit that all the last page needs is a shotgun being pumped sound effect as the music swells into an electric guitar solo before the screen turns to black and the credits begin to roll which borders on obnoxious. I guess all I can say is that by the end of this book I just had to walk away and shake my head. The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizza Boy might be a bit of "dumb fun," but somehow it also ends up being dumbfounding.
TL;DR: Your mileage will definitely vary on this book and unless your actively interested in broad referential horror comedies you'll no doubt barely give this book a second thought.
The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizza Boy is written by Filipe Melo with art by Juan Cavia. Published by Dark Horse, you can ask for it at your local comic book shop, or, support Spandexless by buying it through our Amazon web store.