In the world of craft brewing, experimentation can be found on both sides of the beer experience. Innovative brewers spend their time testing novel and wild ingredients, trying to develop interesting and (hopefully) tasty products. Meanwhile, adventurous consumers scour the shelves of their local bottle shops, searching for the ideal candidate to become their latest preferred brew.
Like my fellow craft beer drinkers, I am also on the lookout for particularly unique brews to sample. On my most recent shopping excursion, I found a beer with what is easily the most volatile combination of ingredients that I have personally heard of.
Shploing!! is an India pale ale brewed with marshmallows, graham crackers, salt, and lactose sugar, with mango and vanilla added to the mix. This beer was brewed by the unique minds at Dorchester Brewing Co. in Boston for the beer producer Omnipollo. Once it has settled in the glass, Shploing!! is a pulpy lemon yellow color with a frothy white head. A strong nose of citrus hops and fresh cut mango rises from the glass, with a hint of vanilla cream. Shploing!! has a tart citrus hop start that leads into a dry body of underripe mango, with clashing flavors of meringue and sour lemon curd. The finish flips back to hops, with a lingering resin aftertaste.
Despite the potential of such a unique ingredient combination (and a striking label), Shploing!! is not for me. I found the flavors clashed on my palate with every sip. However, that is the exciting part of drinking craft beer: trying new brews, sampling inventive creations, and discovering your new favorite beverage. With that in mind, Shploing!! makes an ideal testing subject alongside the experimental artwork of Portal 2: Lab Rat.
Over my many years reading comics, I have found that the best books have art that complements the story. A rollicking fantasy tale should have ethereal watercolors and wide panels for landscape views, while gritty noir fiction should have strong contrasts with tight frames to depict the narrow confines of a city. The artwork dictates the mood of a comic, providing the reader with a visual to influence their emotions while reading.
On the extreme end of art complementing a story are books where unsettling visuals match a dissonant narrative. Worlds where logic doesn’t always apply, characters who have lost touch with reality, certain time periods may have never existed; these story elements tend to shine brightest with surreal art and harsh panel layouts. So when Valve decided to create a comic around a rather offbeat side character from the Portal series, it would seem natural that the art would be as jarring as its protagonist.
Lab Rat tells the story of Doug Rattman, the sole employee of Aperture Science who managed to evade the deadly GLaDOS as she killed off her creators with neurotoxin. Most players of the Portal series are more familiar with this scientist as Rat Man, a derelict living in the walls of Aperture Science whose only presence comes in the form of hidden murals and messages. This comic depicts Rattman’s behind-the-scenes efforts to help the player-character Chell in defeating GLaDOS. Suffering from schizophrenia, his only friend a Companion Cube; Rattman manages to bridge the gap between Portal and its sequel by giving up his own freedom to keep Chell safe.
Just like the main character of Rattman, the artwork of Lab Rat is unstable and chaotic. Uneven (and often nonexistent) panels form the bulk of the comic, giving the reader a sense of a world without form. Jagged line work and harsh contrasts make Rattman stand out from the sterile backgrounds of Aperture Science. An even greater contrast is provided by the structured art of each flashback to Rattman’s past, when he was heavily regulated through medication. The entire comic presents an ambiguous world that only seems to follow the present rules of Rattman’s complex mind.
Speaking personally, comics like Lab Rat tend to make me uncomfortable. The unsettling artwork and often harsh stories of these books are not my preferred choice of reading material. In spite of this preference, I would definitely recommend Lab Rat as a supplementary piece to the Portal games. Getting even a strange glimpse into the events outside of the main game series is a welcome treat. Per their usual generous nature, Valve has posted the entire comic online as a free-to-read story. So be sure to check it out, for the story of the person who is still alive.