We arrive at the last of the introductions to the original five Animorphs: Marco, no last name (as usual). He is, in our Animorph boy band, the Funny One (not the Pretty One, though he might try to sell you on that). (Debate which of the other Animorphs are which boy band stereotype in the comments!) He has spent the past four novels providing comic relief, sometimes at the most inopportune times, and generally being a dick to Tobias and Rachel, because he is scared shitless the Yeerks will kill him and leave his dad alone.
OK, we didn’t learn that last part until now, so I guess we should cut Marco some slack.
Seriously though, dude’s mom just vanished two years ago. No body. No note. We learn why—turns out she is Visser Freaking One, or at least that’s the rank of the Yeerk in her head. And now she is back on Earth, or at least parked in orbit, apparently just to rile up the incompetent but deadly Visser Three in an intergalactic game of “Come at me, bro.”
The whole Visser One/Visser Three power struggle subplot is both hilarious and painful. I get what Applegate is trying to do. It’s clever and definitely done in a way kids will understand. But I still don’t quite see what the objective is for Visser One. She claims she has come back to check up on the invasion of Earth, and then she has her personal Hork-Bajir guard let the Animorphs escape from Visser Three’s Bladeship to embarrass him … and then what? What is her game plan?
Oh, god, Applegate has me hooked and asking questions just like a teenage kid. You win this time, Katherine.
I’m sure that the “Visser One is Marco’s mom” is a twist that past!me never saw coming. Even reading it now, it isn’t obvious—from the way Marco recounts his mother’s disappearance, the reader might assume she was taken as a Controller. But even once Ax breaks the news that Visser One is in town, the connection isn’t there until they are aboard the Bladeship.
Speaking of Ax, let’s talk about our newest boy band member (I guess he’s the Alien One?).
I love human!Ax and his obsession with food, and the confusion that he creates in his first-ever trip to the mall is hilarious.
Despite comic relief not coming from Marco, Ax displays the warning signs of being a plot device for Applegate’s use (TVTropes), when it turns out that he just so happens to know how to build a Yeerk distress transmitter out of spare parts. I’m not saying it’s improbable, just that it’s very convenient.
Also, in the ongoing lexicon of dated references, they went to Radio Shack. That was still a thing. (Note that I live in Canada; Radio Shack abandoned us in 2004, morphing into “the Source by Circuit City” and generally sucking even more. I hear it isn’t doing great in the States these days either.)
Lastly, the ants.
Applegate deserves a lot of credit here for continuing to push the envelop of how she explores morphing ability. It’s not enough for the Animorphs to just turn into animals. She’s always trying to find new ways to describe the experience, and in the end, to explore what it means to be human, as opposed to being a different creature. Her depiction of the Animorphs’ time as ants here is amazing in its breadth and creepiness. From their Kafkaesque horror as they find themselves subsumed into the hive mind of the ant colony instincts to the existential terror as they are nearly torn limb-from-limb by other ants, the Animorphs do not have a good time.
And that’s before Visser Three captures them and nearly discovers their secret.
So the Animorphs get captured (because their brilliant plan goes horribly awry and none of us could have seen it coming)—boo! But they get away—yay! But Marco’s mom is Visser One—boo! But Ax is a pretty human who likes food—yay! But everyone is psychologically scarred from trying to morph ants—boo! But Marco’s dad seems to have snapped out of his pity-fest and is trying to get his old job back—yay!
Next time, Jake becomes a Controller, and shit gets real. We’ll look at the Animorphs’ first real grapple with the moral complexities of war and what, I would argue, is their first real victory.