October 7, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Kill All Monsters Volume 1

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Michael May
Illustrated by Jason Copland
Alterna Comics

In the 1950s, atomic experiments created giant monsters that roamed the earth and destroyed nearly everything. Now a team of monster killers in giant robot suits is out to settle the score, but it won't be easy. Their goal? To Kill All Monsters!

First, let's get this out of the way: Kill All Monsters began as a webcomic in 2010, so it predates Pacific Rim. It's just another case of people having a deep-rooted love for kaiju, something I happen to share, which is why this one was right up my alley.

In fact, Kill All Monsters! is pretty much everything I wanted Pacific Rim to be, but wasn't. The creatures are varied in design, shape, and form of attack. The robots are controlled by a diverse group of races and genders, who are all clearly equal partners. The possible saviors of the planet operate out of Africa, and venture into Paris to see if they can recover it. Just about all the pitfalls that the movie fell into are avoided by May and Copland, and they do it while telling a great story that's definitely based in the source material but feels original.

I don't want this to be a review solely by comparison, so I'll stop there, but you get the idea. This collection, representing the first half of the story the creators wish to tell, moves immediately into the action, as our three main protagonists take on a passel of creatures that range from a tentacled beast to smaller, lizard-like things that are mostly jaws and teeth. Later in the book, we encounter one that appears to be just a brain encased in some awful, corrosive jelly. Copland works in a loose, sketchy style, which makes the monsters extremely fluid and free-flowing across the page. They feel like they leaped off the drawing board and into the panels, ready to fight and maim and kill.

Copland's robots are more stolid, which is appropriate. They're killing machines, but he does a great job of visually cuing the reader into understanding that they are clunky, unwieldy things that have great power for devastation but can just easily become as much of a brick as an old laptop. Even more amazing is the fact that the bot with AI is shown to be the most easily adaptable one. Little, subtle things like that are part of what makes this such a great story.

I know Michael May primarily from his work at Robot 6, a comics blog, but he does a good job with the script here, showing he's got a talent for creating as well as commenting. Within a few pages, we have the personality of the three monster hunters, a bit of doubt thrown on their mission, and a battle set piece that shows May knows how the best monster movies work. (Hope you aren't too attached to the Eiffel Tower.)

May has to cover a lot of expository ground as he and Copland create this world, but I never felt like the story bogged down. We find out a lot by seeing it, thanks to Copland's panels, and I think the serial nature of its origins as a webcomic forced May to find a way to get across the information in bits and pieces while the overall story kept moving. (There's nothing worse than a webcomic that bogs down into days upon days of narration.) The introduction of the AI robot, learning of the Paris Underground, and even finding out that perhaps some humans are traitors to their kind all weave into the story organically. It's some of the best world-building I've seen in quite some time.

Kill All Monsters has a few flaws--Copland's scenes with the humans don't have a lot of life to them, for example, as he relies on facial expression and body positioning to do the heavy lifting. Because it's in black and white and there's a lot of shadows and grime, it can sometimes be a bit hard to negotiate all that's going on without a re-read. One of the plot points screams "1990s" to me, too, in its understanding of technology. But it's not like any of these are deal killers, because the overall comic is extremely good.

If you're a fan of Godzilla or horror stories where humanity must pull itself back together, Kill All Monsters should be your next purchase. Your only regret will be having to wait for volume two.