Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.
Necessary Monsters by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Sean Azzopardi – First Comics 2011
There exists a world of horrors beneath the one we know. Where creatures of our nightmares stalk amongst humanity and play their games of vengeance, murder and intrigue. To police this world there is The Chain; a covert agency of monsters and killers, charged with keeping the human herd from ever growing too thin.
Contains Mild Spoilers
I picked up the first book of Necessary Monsters when I was at Leeds Thought Bubble a couple of years ago. The creators were promoting their second run of the series (sadly still uncollected) and It was pitched to me as 'Oceans Eleven with movie monsters,”. Suffice it to say, the pitch was unique enough that I couldn't possibly refuse.
It's important to note that I'm not a fan of horror films, at least not the slasher genre anyway, and that colours my experience with Necessary Monsters to a large degree. The cast is heavily populated with ersatz versions of horror icons. Cowboy 13 is a reference to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Charlotte Hatred a reference to The Ring and Creeping Tuesday to Nightmare on Elm treet. If you're a fan of those films, you'll probably love the comic unconditionally on those grounds alone.
But I'm not a fan of those films, and so I'm left to look at Necessary Monsters on its own merits. Fortunately for me, despite all of it's horror references, the comic is very much a hard boiled spy story, with much more in common with a Bond tale than Friday the 13th.
The story follows Tuesday Jones, daughter of a killer who could walk into dreams. She's inducted into The Chain, a secret organisation of monsters and killers who police the other monsters and killers. The Chain are not good guys, but they are less bad than the bad guys, or so we are led to believe. As the story goes on it starts to show that the villain, Harps Bane, may have more noble intentions than it initially appears.
Azzopardi's art is just perfect for the story, the stark black and white keeps the story grounded even as body parts begin to fly, and it walks just the right line between serious and ridiculous. His art does become a little ropey at times, with quite a few character looking a little off model, and his guns look really... odd. Most of the visuals are great though, and a battle between two elderich abominations at the climax is particularly inspired.
As for the plot itself, it doesn't waste any time in getting to the good stuff. The use of pop cultural touchstones allows for the reader to fill in the blanks of the world building all on their own. The cast are all thoroughly likeable, no mean feat considering they are mostly indiscriminate murderers. They're all appropriately grotesque too, setting the tone for the plot and leaving you wondering how it's going to end.
The comic throughout makes the most of the visual medium to create what is essentially a form of American folklore. Both Lady Liberty and the Hollywood sign play an important role in the plot and combined with the horror symbolism it takes a wry look at the concept of American personal identity.
As the plot unfolds, Tuesday is presented with a choice, embrace what she is as a monster, or turn away and return to the mundane world. It's good allegorical storytelling, essentially using movie monster tropes to tell a modern fable about being true to your identity. It's no accident Goodbrey cast Tuesday as a young black American in a story about personal identity, and her story arc is particularly touching.
Now the comic is not without it's problems. As mentioned earlier, the cast are likeable for a bunch of murderers, but that doesn't change the fact that they are, ultimately, murderers. It makes it hard to keep the reader sympathetic to The Chain's cause, but it also causes a massive headache in the dissonance between characters. Tuesday and, to a degree, Hatred are more like vigilantes in the use of their powers, taking down killers and gangsters in a form of warped justice.
Cowboy 13 on the other hand is an actual serial killer, who we see murdering teenagers at both the beginning and the end of the book. If Tuesday is, at least to some degree, empathic towards the plight of victims then it seems odd that we're supposed to just accepter her working alongside 13. Perhaps this is something that gets addressed in a later story, but for now just leaves things feeling a little off kilter.
Maybe it's just because I'm not a horror movie fan though. Most slasher villains become figures of fun eventually and the audience cheers along as they murder people in progressively more ridiculous ways. Maybe we're supposed to cheers along with Cowboy 13 retuning to his murderous roots, but for me, somebody reading this as more of a pulp spy story with a twist, It doesn't ring true.
I suppose that is emblematic of Necessary Monsters problems as a whole. The comic has one foot in one genre and one foot in another and never fully reconciles the two. It's a fun book, and a unique premise, and finishes at an excellent point that leaves you wanting more. It's best enjoyed quickly, and not thought about too much. For horror movie fans, It's probably perfect, but for everyone else, it might leave you feeling as though something is missing.
Jack Harvey 2016. Necessary Monsters (c) 2011 Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Sean Azzopardi. Images used under Fair Use.