You know, the Emerald City Comic Convention ended a bit over two months ago. I should probably start reviewing some of the books I bought there, right? So let's get into it!
Kill All Monsters is the webcomic by Michael May (who writes for Robot 6), Jason Copland (who has impeccable taste), and Ed Brisson (who letters like a mofo). I, of course, never actually read it on-line, but I wanted to read it, so of course I picked up a copy from Mr. Copland himself in Seattle.
And now I've read it! The book is coming out from Alterna Comics and costs $11.99. There's also a very successful Kickstarter that ends this Friday for other costs that Alterna doesn't cover. If you're interested in that sort of thing. This is volume 1, but according to the end of the book, it concludes in volume 2. Will there be even more? NO MAN CAN SAY!
Kill All Monsters is an interesting comic, because it starts out as one thing and slowly changes into something better, and that's always nice to see. It's as if May thought "What if I made a comic with giant monsters fighting giant robots?" and once the "That's AWESOME!" factor wore off, he realized he had to come up with something else. I'm sure he had it plotted out further than just the robots fighting the monsters, but for the first several pages, he just has Copland drawing that, and while it's quite keen, you always need something more than that. So May settles into an interesting story that borrows liberally from plenty of sources, but still manages to be a compelling read.
May and Copland begin with a giant fight in Paris, as three giant robots (one with a lion face and dreadlocks, because why not) battle a bunch of weird monsters.
Buildings get leveled, bridges get destroyed, and if you think one of the robots doesn't use the Eiffel Tower as a spear, well, you don't know much about the Eiffel Tower. It all seems very awesome, and Copland gets to go nuts with the action, but then, at the very end of the fight, the creators do something interesting - they pull back to show a wider scene, and we see small, black smudges of people in the foreground ... and they appear to be holding spears and shields. What the heck? It turns out that this world is significantly different than ours, as the monsters - created, like Godzilla, in the aftermath of atomic tests - have been menacing humanity since 1954 (of course this is when the first Godzilla movie came out) and have destroyed a great part of the world. The people we see in the scene have reverted to a pre-industrial existence, so that they don't even know what a computer is or even how to generate electricity. It strains credulity a tiny bit, especially as the book is set in the present day and the people driving the robots possess all this knowledge, but it's a fascinating comment on how dependent people are on technology and how quickly things can go all Mad Max in a society. The three pilots - Akemi, Dressen, and Spencer - are stuck in Paris for a time, because their robots are a bit damaged, and this allows May to explain their situation a bit. Their boss, Abbud Rashad, formed a group of fighters who pilot the robots in order to fight the monsters. The Parisians are stereotypical "barbarians," dressing like Conan or Red Sonja and carrying bows, arrows, and spears, but May upends the cliché because they're still "civilized" even though they don't use technology.
The three soldiers find a hard drive in an underground room and send it off to General Rashad, and his team discovers a secret about the monsters that isn't good. It's a fine place for a cliffhanger!
May does a nice job establishing the characters in a brief space. The three robot pilots are tough, but they have their own personalities - Spencer feels like he owes Rashad something, while Akemi doesn't necessarily trust authority, no matter how benign it might seem. Meanwhile, Rashad has built a new robot, Archer, which has its own A.I., and it's interesting that Archer acts like a frightened kid a lot - he's worried because the three more experienced human pilots might not trust him. The inhabitants of the sewer are interesting, too, especially Cosa, who rides along with Akemi when they head back to their robots and, of course, get attacked by monsters. May doesn't allow the two sides to automatically distrust each other - Meshal, the leader of the Parisians, is a bit suspicious, but mainly because he doesn't understand what's going on and he's just being careful. It's somewhat refreshing that the Parisians and the pilots work together instead of fighting, as that's a bit tiresome. So although May gives us plenty of giant monster-killing, he's smart enough to make sure that there's a reason we care that the robots are fighting the monsters rather than just saying "Hey, robots fighting monsters is cool, right?"
I've been a fan of Copland's almost since he started drawing comics, and he continues to improve as he stretches his creative muscles. He's moved from a more precise line to a sketchier look that allows him to be a bit looser with his action, which is helpful.
The initial battle in the book is a jagged, frenetic, dynamic explosion, and it starts the story off on a high note. Copland, however, is still very good at linework when he wants to be, and that provides a nice contrast when he wants to slow things down. The fights are insane, but when he focuses on the characters, he's much more precise and measured, so their interactions stand out more. All of the characters are interesting and unique, with Copland doing his best work on Akemi, possibly because May makes her a bit more nuanced than Spencer and Dressen. Copland's design work is excellent, too, as he gives us all sorts of weird monsters and robots that look similar but have nice, distinguishing touches. Copland also uses a lot of Zip-A-Tone. I asked Copland why he used it, and he wrote back: "I use Zip for a few reasons, actually. One is that it helps create another value of gray without using a flat gray "colour". Another is that it helps give the page a texture/visual interest that isn't just lines/ink on paper. It also is a nod to '70s and '80s comics that I grew up loving. Tom Palmer was a cat that rocked the Zip! But, mostly, it's because Zip is awesome." You cannot argue that Zip-A-Tone is awesome, but he's right - it does add a nice layer of texture to the page, especially when it's combined with his rough artwork.
Kill All Monsters will be in stores soon (it was in the April Previews, so maybe in June?), and I'm sure if your shoppe doesn't have it, you can find it many, many other places. It's a fun, exciting comic that is a bit more than it seems. I'm looking forward to the exciting conclusion!