Sometimes, saving your community is about making people think that Sasquatch is real.That’s the gist, anyway, of MARTIAN GHOST CENTAUR, a March 2021 release from Oni Press, written by Mat Heagerty and illustrated and colored by Steph Mided. Quirky weirdo Louie O’Connor is a girl obsessed with the Squatch, since her dads are the ones that captured the thing on tape back in the 90s. But now, tech bros are invading to buy up the land and business of Southborough in order to build the headquarters of a tech company called Start-up.com, and it’s up to Louie and her friends to save the town, by any means necessary. It’s a fun premise, and it sinks its teeth into the world of cryptids, an area of human fascination that has been dwindling since the advent of the iPhone and the fact that a LOT of people are now within 2 seconds of having a camera out of their pocket and turned on. Unsurprisingly, cryptid sightings are now more rare… probably because they aren’t real, but hey, I’m not going to judge you if you want the Jersey Devil or the Mothman or whatever to be real. Live your life.
Funnily enough, the problems with cryptid culture are where the crux of the economic woes of Southborough come from. If the Squatch isn’t real, no one is going to go buy a Squatch Burger or buy groceries from a bunker, and you find out that the O’Connors (the guys who originally saw the Squatch and Louie’s dads) are hiding something from their Squatch obsessed daughter. And when Louie invites a Youtube-famous monster hunter to Southborough to prove for once and for all that the Sasquatch is real… well, you can guess what happens.
It’s clear that this comic is influenced by some of the campy monster movies and books of the 80s and 90s, and MARTIAN GHOST CENTAUR wants to build on that time-worn tradition of goofy monsters. Unfortunately, Heagerty has turned “campy” up to 11, and the things that initially seem amusing (for example, Louie renting out her closet on AirBnB) become eye roll-inducing fairly quickly. The campiness is everywhere, and uses up a significant amount of panel time. The one-off jokes, visual puns, real-world references, and general weirdness of Southborough become a distraction from the thematic points of the book. These distractions, compounded over time, lead to essential problems in the story’s development. The book also suffers from an excess of thematic baggage and never truly congeals around a single core theme. It’s a book about gentrification, and about growing up, and about finding your passion, and about how people change, and about believing in yourself, and the power of friendship and family and community… and because it’s about all of this stuff, it’s actually just a muddy version of none of it.
Tragically, the writing of MARTIAN GHOST CENTAUR is so dead sure that it’s funny that a fair amount of the time it actually forgets to be funny, and while the book is a fine popcorn read, it doesn’t hold up on subsequent reads. The main character Louie is specifically a sore spot in the comic, because the vast majority of the narrative movement is due to her being shitty to people she cares about, either deliberately or due to an oversized naïveté. When the Squatch inevitably gets sidelined, it’s Louie’s belief that some kind of monster is going to do the trick to make the town of Southborough a bustling vacation spot once again. This is a fun premise, but because of the action in the first act, Heagerty writes himself into a corner that he can only get himself out of by asking one of the major antagonists to “believe in the power of imagination,” which makes much of the thematic work ring hollow. The specific points about gentrification, and the tech-bro antagonist who is intent on building a startup in the middle of Southborough are written without much nuance or depth, and it’s a detriment to the storytelling of the book.
Steph Mided brings a campy and pun-laden script to life with colorful and attractive cartooning, and I was impressed with her ability to both make Southborough feel like a goofy tourist trap and make the characters visually compelling. There are some visual gags that liven the mood throughout the book, and references that make me regret that I’m terminally online. Despite Mided’s hard work, she ultimately can’t save the book from itself.
All that being said, sometimes you just want to read a silly comic book; you want to feel clever about internet references and believe in the power of friendship. If that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, MARTIAN GHOST CENTAUR is your book. If you’re willing to overlook this book’s narrative woes, you’ll have a fun time.