Cullen Bunn (W), Steve McNiven (P), Jay Leisten (I), David Curiel (CA)
Cover by Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and David Curiel
Publisher: Marvel Comics
For those who don’t know, before the Marvel Age of comics began, and even a little into its existence, Marvel put out many “creature feature” comics. These were comics, often written and drawn by the great Jack Kirby himself, that focused on some form of monster showing up and the quest to halt its path of destruction. Groot was actually originally one of these creatures, and he looked far different back then. It is this that Marvel is channeling with its new big event crossover, Monsters Unleashed.
One of my biggest issues with Marvel’s business model is its love of crossovers. From about 2007-onwards, Marvel has put out at least one big crossover every year. These result waylaying other titles that are mandated to tie-in to said crossover, and the crossovers have, in themselves, often had diminishing returns, see Fear Itself, Avengers vs X-Men, and, most recently, Civil War II. Many take issue with Age of Ultron and Original Sin. I actually thought both were enjoyable, if flawed, stories.
With Monsters Unleashed, Inhumans vs X-Men, and Civil War II, we now have three crossovers running within a month of one another. That is to say nothing of smaller crossovers that took place around the time of the beginning of Civil War II, namely Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill and Apocalypse Wars. These are becoming quite overwhelming. Marvel has kicked up the regularity of these crossovers to the point where we are having multiple running at the same time, and it’s becoming really hard to just enjoy a title that you don’t need to check out eight others to understand. We already have Secret Empire on the horizon as well, and I’m sure that’s going to crossover into twenty different books too.
Marvel is risking true impenetrability here. Many potentially new comic book readers are intimidated by the seventy-years of history that Marvel has behind it. With these ridiculous crossovers engulfing all of their books, it will become even harder to pick up a single comic and understand what is going on within its pages.
So, this is the context into which Monsters Unleashed comes out. That is quite a difficult crowd to face for any story. How does Monsters Unleashed due in the face of these insurmountable odds?
It begins with a pencil drawing on paper as a red light streaks across the sky and lands in Boston, Massachusetts. The light reveals itself to be a large, quadrupedal and squid-like monster, which promptly begins to tear up the city. The Avengers quickly take the scene and begin trying to coral the creature while saving as many lives as they can. The combined powers of Thor and Hercules manage to fell the beast, but the relief is short-lived. Two more creatures quickly land to face the heroes, and the Vision informs the team that this is a global crisis.
We next see the X-Men facing a creature in London, Black Panther and Shuri fighting another in the Golden City in Wakanda, the Guardians of the Galaxy struggling one in Seattle, and the Inhumans grappling with a monster in Venice.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur are seen studying the “falling stars” in her lab, and she is determined to discover the origin. In Boston, a silhouetted figure is seen studying ancient parchments to discover why this invasion of monsters is happening.
We next cut to Springfield, where a teenager is revealed to be the one making the drawings at the beginning, and he is revealed to have drawn many a monster.
Next, the Champions fight yet another creature in Los Angeles. We then cut to Peru, where the silhouette is revealed to be Elsa Bloodstone, and she enters a trap-ridden crypt and finds cave drawings at its center (as I type that out, I now realize how none of that makes sense). These drawings reveal to her something about the origins of this crisis, the predictions made about it, and something indicating a potential ruler of the monsters.
We return to that teenaged artist, named Kei Kawade, who sees the monsters invading on the television, and he leaves his house to see another light streaking into the woods near his home. He runs towards it and is swept up. The individuals who caught him are revealed to be Fin Fang Foom and a number of other monsters. Foom warns him that he is playing a “dangerous game”. The comic ends here.
I love giant monster movies. I have seen just about every Godzilla movie. My personal favorite Godzilla film has to be a tie between Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. I’ve seen many Gamera films, and I absolutely adored Pacific Rim. I’m saying all this to explain why it hurts me that this comic misses the mark.
It seemed like, despite it being a part of the flood of crossovers from Marvel, that this should be an easy sell to me. My favorite super heroes fighting off a plague of giant kaiju-like monsters, this should be awesome. And it’s being written by one of my favorite writers, Cullen Bunn? And it’s being drawn by Steve McNiven (at least the first issue)? This should be such an easy success.
But it’s not. It’s not terrible either though. It’s just…there. I frankly struggled trying to search out the reasons why this comic just didn’t quite do it.
I was able to come up with a few. The first is that this is another in a long line of Marvel crossovers, as I’ve stated many times. As a result, the cities I’m watching be destroyed I’ve watched crumble multiple times in the past two months. That kills the stakes and tension a good bit, because I know they’ll be back up next week.
The other problem is that there is no story in this first issue. There really isn’t a plot. There is a premise, i.e. the monsters invading the world. There are sub-plots that barely get touched on, namely Elsa Bloodstone’s search for the origins, Moon Girl’s research, and Kei Kawade probably causing everything. However, there’s no main plot. This is a result of every major hero needing to be in this one issue apparently, and that means we don’t get to focus on any one or handful of characters.
The dialogue is oddly…retro in this comic too. There is a lot of exposition-heavy dialogue where characters say exactly what they’re doing in detail as they do it. Black Panther in particular shouts out his entire plan of attack as he executes said plan. It’s quite odd and seems out of place next to Nova, Spider-Man and Hulk arguing over whether or not what they are fighting qualifies as a kaiju since they aren’t in Japan.
McNiven’s art is great in this comic, and Curiel’s colors are deep and contrasting. The monster designs are awesome and creative. But even that is undercut by the fact that we don’t focus on any one of them for more than a few panels. This keeps them from being too memorable because there are just so many.
Also, there are some weird perspective moments where some characters look too big, some monsters and building look too small, and the scale of everything gets thrown off. This is particularly apparent in the Seattle scene with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Drax looks about 20 feet tall because he’s being shown next the Space Needle at an angle that makes him look like a significant fraction of its size.
There are a lot of really cool action scenes at least. They look great, and any one of them would make a good wallpaper on a phone or a desktop. Even that doesn’t have much impact because, again, they are all happening concurrently, and no one conflict seems that important. The stakes, drama, and tension just aren’t there.
Mediocre and meandering seem to be the best words to describe this comic. It doesn’t really have a plot, but the art is good and the fighting is cool. I can’t say avoid this comic. It’s a fun action romp, but it probably won’t stick with you for long. Hopefully, the next issue will improve things.
Final Score: 5/10