Young Monsters in Love #1 is a remarkably tight anthology featuring classic DC monsters in a Valentine’s Day special. This giant 80-page issue manages to stay consistently excellent across its 10 stories, but the actual title is a bit misleading. Most of these stories are not actually love stories, or at least not true romances. Instead of silly, sexy romps with monster men and women and monkeys, the creators in Young Monsters in Love use these monsters to illustrate alienation, loss and loneliness, as well as self-love and self-confidence. Most of these monsters end up alone in the end, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Romantic love is important, but it’s not the only type of love that exists.
Readers will get more from each story if they’re familiar with the characters, but for the most part the stories in Young Monsters in Love work quite well as standalones. The Swamp Thing story by Mark Russell, Frazer Irving and Travis Lanham is stunning and melancholy while requiring no knowledge of Swamp Thing beyond the fact that he’s a thing who lives in a swamp. Irving’s art is ethereal; haunting, glowing greens fill the page except for pops of red in Swamp Thing’s girlfriend’s hair and the valentine he gives her. Swamp Thing is probably the one character in this anthology I would call truly sexy and romantic, but he’s a romantic, Gothic hero whose story ends about as happily as you’d expect.
“Visibility,” a story featuring Monsieur Mallah and The Brain, is another standout. Written by Steve Orlando with art by Nic Klein and letters by Tom Napolitano, “Visibility” is one of the few queer stories and absolutely the most tragic. It starts with Mallah and The Brain in a standoff with the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit and ends with Mallah smiling in a panel that may just bring you to tears when you finally get there.
In contrast, the stories featuring Raven, Etrigan the Demon and Andrew Bennett, aka I, Vampire, would benefit from a bit more context. Readers unfamiliar with those characters will be able to follow the plot, but in each of these stories the emotional hook isn’t there. The other stories, featuring Man-Bat, Frankenstein, Solomon Grundy, Deadman and Vincent Velcoro of the Creature Commandos do much better at getting the reader emotionally invested in the span of eight pages.
The Solomon Grundy story, “Buried on Sunday,” written by Mairghread Scott and Bryan Hitch, with art by Andrew Currie, colors by Nathan Fairbairn and letters by Clayton Cowles, actually starts with Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It looks like it’s going to be about the well-covered territory of their relationship, but of course this anthology is all about monsters. This story is about Superman’s monster foe Grundy, who he was before he was monstrous, and the power of love to soothe savage beasts.
While some of the stories are a bit more miss than hit, overall the anthology is top notch. The artists and letters especially do an amazing job. The Deadman story “Be My Valentine” features some very clear lettering on some text heavy pages; the I, Vampire story “The Turning of Deborah Dancer” has a beautiful painterly quality; and each monster has distinctive, weird lettering that indicates they are something other than normal.
While there is a definite dearth of smooches and monster-human love, Young Monsters in Love does a great job demonstrating how broad love is and the variety of relationships it can apply to. The relatively tame and non-sexual nature of the stories makes it family-friendly. It’s actually a great read for kids and adolescents given how it demonstrates different types of love and relationships.
That said, I think there’s appetite for monster smooching — see Twisted Romance, My Monster Boyfriend, Strange Romance and even the Oscar-nominated The Shape of Water. Next year, DC. I’m waiting.