Grew up reading comic books in the 90's. Marvel fan at heart. Hulk, the Midnight Sons, and Marvel's cosmic universe are my favorites.
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The Marvel Comics event Monsters Unleashed is already underway. As a new age of monsters looms on the entertainment world horizon Marvel honors those monsters from its past. ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen is here with a view on this current Marvel event.
Marvel’s Monsters Unleashed: A Celebration Of An Era
Once, many years ago, the world of entertainment was ruled by giant monsters, radioactive beasts, alien creatures, and kaiju. The imaginations of audiences around the world were captivated by these creatures of the atomic era and the space age. For a time it seemed as if the world couldn’t get enough giant monsters.
The works of monster masters such as Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda have inspired countless generations of fans and creators the world over. But the monsters of Harryhausen and Honda were only a portion of the creations from that era. The presence of these beasts were not only felt in movie theaters and on television screens but comic books as well. While not the first names to come to mind when one thinks of giant monsters, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave the world a host of giant monsters.
To remember these classic creations and to honor a chapter in their history, Marvel Comics has released the comic book event Monsters Unleashed. Written by author Cullen Bunn, each issue is penciled by a different super star artist. Steve McNiven, Greg Land, Leinil Yu, Salvador Larroca, and Adam Kubert lend their incredible talents to this larger than life story. But Monsters Unleashed is more than merely another event.
To understand it all we must look to the past.
After super heroes fell out of style during the post World War II era the landscape of comics books was ever changing. There were horror comic books, fashion and romance comic books, and giant monster comic books. A different monster for each month waking from millions of years of hibernation or arriving from a distant galaxy. Some monsters made a bid for world domination. Others just wanted to be left alone or to return to their long slumber.
These monsters weren’t always the animalistic beasts populating movie theaters either. Many of them could speak and were quite articulate in their aims however misguided they may have been. Characters like Groot and Fin Fang Foom as well as others spoke rather eloquently in regards to the subjugation of Earth. And in a strange way these monsters played both the role of antagonist as well as protagonist. While they threatened our very existence it was the monsters that readers longed to see as opposed to the nameless human heroes who’d eventually triumph.
And beyond it all these monsters served an even greater purpose. At a time when super heroes comic books had run their course the fate of Marvel Comics rested in the hands of these giant monsters. These monsters kept Marvel alive for a time until super heroes returned in force. Fast forward nearly 60 years and these monstrous characters who once held Marvel on their shoulders have been nearly all but forgotten.
Today the world stands on the edge of a monster renaissance. Genre films are dominating the box office. Technology has advanced to a stage where anything and everything can be convincingly realized on screen. In 2013 Legendary Pictures gave us the film Pacific Rim, pitting giant monsters against giant robots. In 2014 Godzilla made his second American blockbuster film. In 2016 famed anime director Hideaki Anno revived the Toho Godzilla franchise. And in a few short weeks King Kong is returning to the big screen. Looking at the mounting evidence it appears the world is ready for another age of monsters.
Marvel’s Monsters Unleashed
Countless giant alien monsters begin falling out of the sky. The creatures are landing in major cities around the world and wreaking havoc. Every super hero group is called into action. Once these monsters have been dealt with more fall from the sky. And more. And more until Earth’s heroes are overrun.
Elsewhere Earth’s resident monster hunter, Elsa Bloodstone, is tracking an ancient prophecy. The prophecy points to a single individual connected to a host of monsters. Elsa follows the trail to a child named Kei Kawade, a young boy with a strong affinity for monsters. Kei loves to draw monsters in his notebook and when he does the monsters suddenly appears.
Kei isn’t responsible for the deluge of monsters attacking Earth. But Elsa believes with his powers Kei may be Earth’s only hope. As the super heroes fall prey to yet more alien monsters Kei summons an army of Earth’s monsters. It’s monster versus monster! But it will be enough?
Concept and Execution
Remember being a kid and simply gravitating towards dinosaurs? No explaining or understanding was needed. You just liked dinosaurs. This fascination transcends time and generations. In much the same way there’s something completely natural about children and a love of giant monsters.
The title, Monsters Unleashed, is a nod to a 1970’s black and white horror magazine from Marvel of the same name. The magazine often featured the Frankenstein Monster or the Man-Thing. That book was geared to adults however. Such is not the case here.
Monsters Unleashed channels the childlike fascination and love of giant monsters. Rather than taking a more realistic and frightening approach like the 2014 Godzilla or the upcoming Kong: Skull Island, Cullen Bunn’s story embraces the inner childlike love of monster mayhem. It’s as if he’s tapped into the scope and feel of the late sixities and early seventies Godzilla and Gamera films.
It’s Destroy All Monsters in the Marvel Universe.
By taking this approach he’s created a narrative conducive to using Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic monsters from the early 1960’s without changing a single design. Had the story been more serious these classic designs wouldn’t work without being updated. Marvel’s super heroes have been constantly updated in both design and character over the years, changing with the times. The artists for this story haven’t changed a thing on these monsters. They even speak like they did in sixties.
These are Stan and Jack’s monsters.
These monsters saved the Marvel universe from a sales perspective back in the 1960’s. Between the golden age and the silver age of super heroes these monsters kept Marvel Comics alive. In Cullen Bunn’s story these same monsters are saving the world of Marvel again.
That being said, this story isn’t for everyone.
One of the criticisms this book has been receiving is the portrayal of the heroes. Traditionally in Kaiju films the human characters are relatively ineffectual in physically repelling the monsters with a few exceptions. From film to film the human characters are basically interchangeable, serving a tertiary function to the plot. They’re there to get out of the way and have someone say, “Let them fight.”
Which Captain America is this? How many Spider-Mans do we need? The heroes populating the current Marvel universe are, in some cases, the third or fourth derivations of the characters. Digging deep these characters are their own, regardless of being the third character to bear the name Thor or Captain America. There is however an inherent level of interchangeability present. And dramatically, whether you’re a kid or not, it’s way cooler to see two giant monsters fighting each other than a human sized character punching out a kaiju. The heroes just need to get out of the way. In short Cullen Bunn seems aware of all the points above and is handling the human characters accordingly.
This book shouldn’t be about the heroes anyway. It should be about the monsters.
Personally, I’d love to see more of Elsa Bloodstone, not necessarily in this book, but in general. She seems better suited to a darker, adult aimed horror story. At least that’s what I’d want to see. A MAX Elsa Bloodstone title, anyone?
Artistically the book should look spectacular given the names attached. Steve McNiven, Greg Land, Leinil Yu, Salvador Larroca, and Adam Kubert are some of Marvel’s top talents. McNiven and Land instill the monsters with larger than life presence, practically roaring off the page. The art for issues one and two looks worthy of a big Marvel event.
Leinil Yu seems to have struggled a bit with issue three, failing to capture the scope and the fun tone of the book. Even his renditions of the heroes come across rushed and somewhat bland. Maybe his heart just wasn’t in it. And yet the book still looks better than many titles currently on the stands. Hopefully the forthcoming issues by Larroca and Kubert will pick up the slack.
This Marvel event began in late January 2017. Marvel is handling the event in an atypical way compared with last year’s event Civil War II, 2015’s Secret Wars, and most all previous events.
Rather than being overly drawn out like Civil War II and Secret Wars the book is being released bi-monthly in rapid succession. The book is also fewer issues and less of an investment than most events, consisting of only five issues.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this event are the tie-in books. The list of books tying into this event are minimal and all one-shots. The Doctor Strange and Avengers tie-in books to Monsters Unleashed are separate from the regular titles. This lets the reader chose whether or not they want more of the event. For the most part the Monsters Unleashed tie-ins have been high quality, capturing the fun tone of the event, and in many cases exhibiting better art than the regular monthlies.
With the typical Marvel event most regular monthly titles are interrupted, their central stories put on hiatus. Readers of these regular monthly titles are forced to endure three to five issues of a side-story to the event, whether they’re buying the event or not.
Nowadays with most comic books lasting only a year, that translates roughly to two story arcs. We readers receive one story arc which gets the book going. The second story arc is the tie-in to the event which in most cases diverges from the direction story was taking in the previous arc. Then the book is cancelled. When Marvel changed their catalog to a seasonal style they failed to adapt their event execution with Civil War II.
Personally I’m dreading the upcoming Marvel event Secret Empire for just this reason. How many of the monthly books I purchase will be forcefully interrupted by that event I wonder?
In short, the format of Monsters Unleashed is scaled down. It’s financially feasible to purchase the event in its entirety. And the event is non-invasive to the regular monthly comics. This format is welcoming, refreshing, and should be considered as an option for the future of comic book events.
Monsters Unleashed is a grand and fun story honoring the Marvel monsters from the past. Super heroes and giant monsters together in a story we’ve dreamed of since we were kids. And that’s exactly who this book is aimed for. Beyond that it’s a celebration of the creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The book has two issues remaining with nearly all the tie-ins already released. And in April Monsters Unleashed is continuing in its own ongoing monthly series.
Later this year Marvel Comics is collecting a portion of Stan and Jack’s monster stories from the 1960’s in two omnibi, the first dropping in May and the second in August.
Are you like myself and can’t get enough of giant monsters wreaking havoc?
Do you think the monsters of old have a place in the current Marvel universe anymore?
Tell us what you think of Monsters Unleashed in the comments below.
Source: Marvel Comics