A snappy blend of Boy and His Dog sci-fi plus funny animal comics, Aaron Neathery’s “Endtown“ is one of the underseen gems in web comics. Originally debuting on the Modern Tales site — and more recently migrated to GoComics — the weekday series charts the travails of the beleaguered underground survivors of a mutant spawning radiation plague.
Some of the Endtown inhabitants, like skinny aboveground scavenger Albert, appear to have been unaffected by the radiation, though the majority have been transformed into either anthropomorphic animals or multi-orbed monstrous beasties. Albert’s girlfriend Gustine, for instance, has transmogrified into a 700-pound skirt-wearing rhinoceros (paging Ionesco!) Our hero still remains in love with her, though when he tries a romantic gesture, he fails to take her massive size into account. “You’re pining for the human Gustine!” she accuses.
The primary plot of “Endtown”’s Modern Tales run, then, concerns an aboveground quest for the fruit of a tree that could, conceivably, change Gustine back to her human form. As established in the series’ opening, the surface can be a dangerous place due to the presence of Topsiders, Nazi-like human survivors obsessed with genetic purity; sand-dwelling monsters; and living pixels capable of bonding together to create illusions. Also top side, Sam “Sparkplug” Sanders, a mad weapons scientist who knows first-hand about the Amesworth Radiation responsible for the end of the world as we know it.
Neathery’s strip shifts from Walt Kelly-esque plotlines like an early sequence concerning Albert and ducky Professor Mallard’s attempts to sell the Endtown inhabitants on the wonders of canned beans — to grim moments like Sparkplug’s flashback to the horrendous transformation of his loved ones. At times, as when Albert and Gustine are put on trial as possible traitors after they’ve safely returned from aboveground, “Endtown” attains a sharper satiric voice. What holds the strip through its tonal shifts are its characters: with the exception of the largely faceless Topsiders, whose identities are obscured by their protective suits, Neathery even shows empathy for his villains.