Gods & Undergrads Book 3

Written and Illustrated by Monica Gallagher

Life pretty much sucks for Lelaina Pantheus. As if having the usual problems of a young college student aren't bad enough--from changing relationship dynamics to working out the best ways to handling drinking and sex--she's apparently got divine parentage, too!

After finding out that Greek Gods are stalking her and fighting off Furies, Lelaina apparently causes the death of her roommate's brother, pulling her further away from her friends. While she works on how to recover, there's a mystery afoot about old deaths at the school, several players in this drama are out for revenge, and oh yeah--her Mom is here to collect on the potential of her powers.

It's a complex web of plotting, but writer/artist Monica Gallagher proves she's more than a match for the challenge she's set out for herself, as this collection is the strongest yet in the series. From the first book, Gallagher had a strong handle on the characters and weaving a story with unexpected twists and turns. Now, with a refined style that's continuing to improve, the art is coming to the fore just as the overall story itself is hitting a major plot point.

After a humorous recap that reminded me of a manga opening, Monica takes the reader right into serious territory, with an emotional funeral packed from panel to panel with tension. Lelaina breaks under the strain and retreats to the safety of her step-mother, but the Gods refuse to leave her alone. Artemis--the real killer--comes to train her, Hermes comes (well, with just about everyone, it seems), too, and the next thing she knows, there are more Gods after her. Hermes and Artemis claim they're here to help, blocking the path of Gods who might try to use her. But it's clear they've got their own agenda, and Gallagher leaves it wide open for that possibility.

If there's one thing I know from my extensive reading of both the original mythology and tons of derivative works like Gods & Undergrads, it's that you can rarely trust any member of the Greek Pantheon. Monica gets that, and uses it well in her plotting. What I really like, however, is that she's not throwing them all against the wall and seeing what sticks, either. They're being introduced slowly, adding further layers of complication for Lelaina.

When we do see them, their designs are well done by Gallagher. Hermes has always been a bit on the animalistic side, and Artemis is shown as being rough-hewed and freckled, the kind of person weathered by experience despite her young appearance. Hades, meanwhile, dresses like Gomez Adams and acts like dying is the best thing ever. Then there's Hebe, who looks like the dictionary definition of a legal assistant, right down to the tailoring of her suit.

Those are the kinds of touches that put this one on an artistic level that rises above a lot of self-published comics. Monica doesn't have to take her craft to this level--the story would still be enjoyable if all the Gods dressed like they came right out of Bullfinch--but she does it anyway. With her linework getting more precise and consistent, creating varied characters is easier and it helps for a reader to differentiate at a glance who we are dealing with. Given the size of the cast of this story, that's extremely helpful.

I also think I prefer the series in Black and White. Coloring is nice, and can add things, but sometimes there's something to be said for just enjoying the work in a more raw state, without processing. It allows the reader to concentrate on the sinister nature of Eos's character design, with her mouth, eyes, and eyebrows just a bit outside what you'd expect them to be, rather the shade of her eyes or hair. Similarly, the dark vengeance that changes Iris' looks or hangs over Artemis like her clothing is all in the inking rather than keyed in by changes in palette. Gallagher's art is strong enough to stand out on its own, without needing coloring to help it along.

There's so much about the way Gallagher puts together her panels that I could talk about. Look at the way Lelaina awkwardly moves towards her new friend, when ready to kiss him. It's a very natural thing for two young lovers to do, but I'm not sure others would have thought to show it in just that manner. Check out the way she varies things as Hermes has a one-way conversation with some mysterious force. Watch carefully as Monica blocks out panels inside apartments so that the characters move naturally, but with a dramatic purpose, such as when they make an entrance into the room.

It's really great artistic work from an artist that is criminally underrated right now. I know she had one major label book recently, but if I were a comics publisher, I'd be talking to her about more work right away. Given her storytelling ability (I realized just now I didn't even get into just how diabolical Eos, her Goddess Mother is and how badly she uses Lelaina's father to reach her evil ends!) and consistent work ethic, Gallagher would be a great fit and a real find.

But don't take my word for it. Go pick up Gods & Undergrads and see for yourself. You'll be glad you did.