The Hive is the second volume in Charles Burns’ trilogy, that started with X’ed Out. The book uses flashback to take the reader back to the tipping point in Doug’s relationship with Sarah. It’s the time in which Doug turns from a confident, arty teenager, into a messed-up, dysfunctional adult. Simultaneously, his dream-based alter ego, NitNit, continues on his own Hergé-inspired path through a post-apocalyptic dreamscape, though the waking inspiration for the strange world of the dream seeps closer to the surface as events and locations in the two worlds overlap more and more.
What we learn about Doug is subtle and hinted at in the first volume. In typical Burns style, love and loss are at the heart of his issues. Having found the girl of his dreams, he loses her. He’s not an innocent party in this and they’re both prone to depression, which isn’t going to help.
Doug can’t escape the spectre of this relationship that never was. His rigorous self-centredness can’t let go of her. She haunts every aspect of his life, leaving him moping and impossible to form a relationship with. We see this painfully and genetically reflected in the actions of his father, in whose footsteps Doug appears destined to follow, as if his inevitable downfall has been mapped out by his genetic makeup.
NitNit’s journey takes him into the lizard’s hive and out the other side, as he goes on a quest to find a back issue of a romance comic for a ‘breeder’ – a young girl seemingly kept in the confines of the hive in order to produce workers.
The book suffers a little from being the middle volume of a trilogy, with no opportunity to begin or finish the story. However, it does move things along, building the subtle but dark, eerie tension that Burns does so well.
We’ll have to wait for the final instalment to pass our full judgement on the series as a whole but, from the promise that this book is showing, that final volume looks set to be a corker.