And Then…Monkeybrain Comics

(Note: Clicking on the title of the book will take you to it’s Comixology page where you can purchase it. Clicking on the cover of the book will take you to it’s home page and clicking on a creator name will take you to their twitter feed).

And then. It’s a phrase redolent with meaning, with coiled potential and it’s a phrase that lies at the heart of the five launch titles from Monkeybrain Comics. Each picks up it’s story at the point where most would leave it or skip to the next beat and as a result each feels grounded and contextualized whilst still breaking new ground. Plus, these books have a wicked sense of humor.

This is probably most relevant in Edison Rex, written by Chris Roberson and illustrated by Dennis Culver with colors by Steve Downer and lettering by John J. Hill. It opens with the last battle between Valiant, the most powerful superhuman on the planet and Edison Rex is his arch enemy. Or, Valiant is a privileged idiot who got handed every single one of his godlike advantages and Edison is a self made genius who has done everything he can to better humanity, only for Valiant to render him irrelevant. Or, Valiant is an alien menace who doesn’t even know he’s a menace and Rex is the only man who can save the world, by persuading Valiant to kill himself. Or, Rex is evil. Or all of the above. The book’s central premise is wonderfully old school but unlike so many superhero comics it never puts on it’s father’s clothes and parades around, declaring how clever it is. The story is played absolutely straight, albeit with some touches of black humor, and by the end of the issue you find yourself not only caring about Rex and his new found responsibilities, but admiring Valiant for making one of the most difficult choices of all. The script is tight, character driven and ideas heavy and meshes perfectly with Culver’s clean, precise lines which are in turn neatly accentuated by Downer’s colors. Hill’s lettering is great too, one of the unsung heroes of the book as it shifts from iconic pseudo-comic title logos to sound effects and some nuanced work that really helps the tempo of the dialogue leap off the page. This is a book with a nasty gleam in its eye and it’s going to be a pleasure to see where it goes next.

That sense of progression lies at the heart of Amelia Cole and the Unknown World too. Written by Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride, with art by Nick Brokenshire and lettering by Rachel Deering it too opens in the middle of what should be the big finish. Amelia, the heroine and a woman with high end magical capabilities is battling a demon on the city streets, a fact she finds particularly irritating because she had plans for that afternoon. Straight away Amelia is established as a smart, pragmatic character by touches like this and the genius idea of her fighting a persuasion demon with her headphones on so she can’t hear the thing speak.

Knave and Kirkbride litter the script with neat touches like this, most notably when Amelia steps across to the other Earth. In this universe, magic takes the place of technology and travel between them is accomplished by nothing more than opening a certain type of door. But now the doors are decaying and Amelia, a woman raised in one world and comfortable in both finds herself faced with a string of impossible decisions. Knave and Kirkbride’s script establishes a complex premise without resorting to info dumping whilst Brokenshire’s art shows a keen eye for both the fantastic and the mundane and his character and design work is excellent, especially on the magical police of the other Earth. Deering’s lettering matches his art work neatly, both clean and precise and there’s a sense, as with Edison Rex of a much deeper world beneath the surface of the issue, waiting to be discovered.

 

That idea, of the rich and strange world that ours floats on top of is also central to Matthew Dow Smith’s The October Girl. Written and drawn by Matthew, it follows Autumn Ackerman, a woman trapped in the limbo we all fall into in our twenties. She wants to go to college but can’t afford it, wants a better job but won’t get it, wants things to be easier and simpler and knows that will never happen. Until it does, unfolding into a world of complexity that dwarfs her problems at the same time as throwing them into absolute focus. Dow Smith has a keen ear for dialogue and observation and most of this issue is a painfully accurate depiction of twentysomething ennui. This is, superficially, the least fantastical of the five titles and for some people that’s a bad thing but the book absolutely rewards perseverance, especially with a beautifully realized, and deeply unsettling final reveal. Most of us want but we don’t know how to get. Judging by the that reveal in the last few pages, Autumn has just got and the rest of the book will be about what happens next.

Passing the time whilst you wait for whatever happens next is what lies at the heart of Aesop’s Ark, written by J. Torres and drawn, and lettered, by Jennifer L. Meyer, is the most esoteric and yet most familiar of the books. These are the stories the animals on the Ark tell to pass the time, the petty squabbles they have and the sudden bright moments of unity. The rain is still falling, the boat is still rocking and they are in a state of suspension, neither here nor there, the food chain suspended and trailing away behind the ship as it sails. The story sees a tortoise come to a Lion to ask for help with getting her neighbours to pull together and help plug a leak in the ship. The Lion tells them a story about a mule and a donkey climbing a hill, using that to show them the importance of team work and the dangers of leaving their friends behind. Torres’ deft characterization and Meyer’s breathtaking art combine to make this a break out in a line filled with extraordinary work and Meyer’s panel structure is particularly noteworthy, with the first page’s panels slanting to mirror the motion of the Ark and the story about the mule and the donkey told in the structure of the hill they’re climbing. That’s all there is to it, but this is elemental storytelling rather than simply storytelling, something we instinctively recognize.

Recognition, and instinct, both lie at the heart of the final book in the launch line. Bandette, written by Paul Tobin with art by Colleen Coover, Bandette is the story of a female cat burglar with a quick wit, a strong sense of justice and an excellent cape. The book is steeped in European style, from the moped chase to the Gendarmerie who arrest the villains and it carries itself completely differently to almost anything else on release at the moment. There’s a sparky, graceful sense of fun to the book as it follows Bandette on a job (‘This is called justice. Or larceny. One of the two.’) at the same time as a local bookseller, Mr Corvid, receives a phone call, and an offer, that his own cat burglar persona, Monsieur, can’t turn down. In turn, the introduction of Mr Corvid introduces us to Daniel, the takeaway moped courier for the wonderfully named Rad Thai restaurant and in turn we see him connected to Bandette through her panic button, a signal system that brings the entire town down on the men pursuing her. There’s a sense of the Baker Street Irregulars to these scenes, as disparate groups come to her aid just in time for her to make a perfect escape and move onto the next problem. This is a book that tumbles and flips as gracefully as it’s lead, and it’s sense of fun is just as infectious.

 

A possibly misunderstood super villain, a polite young woman with two worlds to care for, another young woman about to enter an entirely new world, the last animals on Earth and a stylish young cat burglar. If anything truly unites these ideas it’s the sense of fun that runs through all of them, a lightness of touch that’s only accentuated by the ‘and then’ approach each premise takes. These books all somehow manage to feel familiar without ever losing their brand new sheen, a collection of five fiercely well realized ideas that entertain completely first and quietly shatter accepted tropes and wisdom second. The future of comics starts here, and at this quality and these prices, it’s a future almost everyone should be able to afford.

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