Review by Karl Verhoven
Given that the human Nico Bravo hangs around with a small gold sphinx and a grumpy silver unicorn there’s a comforting assurance that Mike Cavallaro hasn’t designed his characters with merchandising ease in mind. Similarly bizarrely mismatched beings occur all the way through, as they did in Nico Bravo and the Hounds of Hades, and a joy of the series is how Cavallaro’s cartooning makes this all look natural. The giant green hand emerging from the small boat in the sample art is a great gag.
Nico’s main problem this time is Abonsam’s annual visit. He’s the god of misfortune and pestilence, and the bane of Nico’s life when he turns up. To be fair to him, this time it’s the mischief of others fiddling with his gear that causes the problem, and Ahriman, god of evil. Pleasingly, Cavallaro hasn’t forgotten Eowulf, and neither has he forgotten about the Unicorn Wars, whether or not Nico believes they actually occurred. He should know better, actually, having been exposed to the concept of alternate dimensions in his first book.
As before, this is an absolute delight. Cavallaro provides a tightly plotted imaginative adventure featuring a multitude of wacky characters, detailed cartooning that prompts readers to look in every corner of a panel to see what might be hiding there, and tops everything off with some really out there ideas for young adult readers. What are they to make of “It’s our original Moat of Night. It’s what filled the universe before there was a universe”? Or Nico asking “How can it be in two places at once?”, and getting the response “Think of it as one place twice”! Fantastic! Also good is that in a world (or worlds) where pretty well anything can happen, Cavallaro keeps a lid on the possibilities, leaking just enough to have the adventure work logically.
So what could be worse than the zombie apocalypse seen last time? Well how about a plague of nightmares set loose? Two sets of people are followed, both experiencing creatively twisting adventures, and old adults are going to wonder just what’s going on, while young adults are more likely to go with joyful flow. There’s a lot of strangeness in the cellar, and Cavallaro exploits the possibilities immaculately, all the while throwing in more stuff. You’ll see flying saucers and giant robots before the end. Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, Nico Bravo and the Cellar Dwellers is also hilarious in places, Cavallaro demonstrating a perfect sense of comic timing.
Cavallaro’s imagination seems infinite, but can even he imagine a better young adult adventure than this? We’ll see in Nico Brave and the Trial of Vulcan, the reasons for which are laid out toward the end here.