Sunday, September 22, 2013

Build-Your-Own-Monkeybrain-Comics-Anthology Review #1

A big chunk of the reason that I decided to wade back into the monthly comics pool was because of the buzz I’d heard about Monkeybrain Comics.  Last year Monkeybrain Comics jumped into the Comixology pool with a number of creator-owned titles that sold for $1 or $2 per issue.  And their comics weren’t just cheap - they were good.  So some of my first purchases off of Comixology were Monkeybrain titles.

Since the titles are all cheaper than a traditional monthly comic and have a lower page count, I feel a bit like what I’m buying is an anthology. So that’s the perspective I’m going to take in these reviews and I’m going to review a few of my monthly Monkeybrain purchases at one time because hey, why not?

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World #1 
Written by: Adam P. Knave and D. J. Kirkbride
Art by: Nick Brokenshire
Lettering by: Rachel Deering

I had heard a lot of good things about Amelia Cole before I grabbed the first issue off of Comixology and, after having read it, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  My impression was that the story was that of a wizard who had to straddle “two worlds” - living in the modern world while the “hidden world” of magic existed as an undercurrent.  Basically a Harry Dresden-like setup.  Instead what we get is Amelia Cole - a traveller between parallel worlds.  On one world, magic does not exist and on the other magic is openly practiced, though strictly monitored by the authorities.  Amelia appears to be a “troublemaker” (perhaps even a vigilante or some other kind of “super-hero”) - helping people with magic beyond what the authorities allow - and she hides out in the non-magical world where she believes that she was born.  As the series begins she discovers that her dimensional travels have weakened the barriers between dimensions and her aunt reveals that there is a third world beyond the magical and the mundane, and that she hasn’t been entirely honest with Amelia about her origins.

This first issue is a thoroughly enjoyable setup issue.  It has the feel of a series that is picking up in the middle of Amelia’s story - as if there were previous adventures of Amelia Cole that we haven’t read yet with hints to previous encounters with the authorities, demons that have been vanquished, and problems that have been solved.  As a hero, Amelia is a lot of fun.  This issue really lays a lot of groundwork even as it careens quickly from Amelia’s discovery that the barriers are breaking down (which involves her going toe-to-toe with a demon, showing us that she can hold her own in the action sequences) to her encounter with the authorities of the magical world, to her discovery of the third, unknown world.  A lot of plot and exposition happen in this issue, but it’s an enjoyable read.  To my knowledge I’ve never read anything by either of these writers or this artist before, but this issue was a lot of fun to read.

Unlike a lot of other Monkeybrain books, Amelia Cole is a $2 book.  But it’s also 28 pages at $2 making it a better page/dollar value than many other $2 comics.  Plus it’s just generally a lot of fun.

Bandette #1
Written by: Paul Tobin
Art by: Colleen Coover

Bandette is another Monkeybrain title that I’d heard a lot about - starting with the fact that it had won the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic of 2013.  After reading the first issue I can see why.  Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover have put together a wonderful cartoon world where the teenage super-thief Bandette steals from thieves and helps the police while dressed in a cape and domino mask.  And she does it by getting help from a variety of average people around the city of Paris who just love the celebrity super-thief.  The concept by itself is a fun one, but  the book is beautifully illustrated, wonderfully paced, and brilliantly dialogued.  After one issue I decided I needed to buy the collection because it is JUST THAT GOOD.  It’s not out yet, but a hardcover collection is due from Dark Horse in November and it’s already on my Amazon wishlist.

(I didn’t actually notice this until working up this review, but the first issue of Bandette contains 13 pages of story for just $1.  Bandette is so great that I wasn’t even concerned about the “value for the money” questions because for what Tobin and Coover gave me, they DESERVE that $1 and possibly more.  The fact that it is a better value for the money as well just underscores what good work Monkeybrain is doing with their titles.)

Edison Rex #1
Written by: Chris Roberson
Line Art by: Dennis Culver
Coloring by: Stephen Downer
Lettering by: John J. Hill

This is the most “traditional superhero book” that I purchased in my first batch of Monkeybrain books.  The premise is, in a nutshell, “what if Lex Luthor succeeded in eliminating Superman?”  Edison Rex is a mad scientist whose arch-nemesis is the Superman-like figure Valiant.  This issue sets up the premise for the series as it shows us how Rex finally defeats his arch-enemy, and how in the aftermath Rex decides how he’s going to move on to the next stage of his life now that he’s finally accomplished what he’s wanted to do.

The tone of this issue is a bit odd, though not really in a bad way.  The subject matter is a bit dark (in that we’re talking about the death of a Superman analogue here) but the art prevents us from taking it too seriously and I think that’s intentional - Roberson and Culver seem to be going for a tone similar to the Giffen/DeMatteis/McGuire-era JLI/JLA stories, which is a niche for superhero books that nobody seems interested in filling right now, and one that I miss immensely.  I enjoyed this book quite a bit - at least enough to pick up a second issue (and that second issue has Rex facing off against a villain known as The Nuclear Norseman - so my judgement about the intended tone of the book is, I think, correct).

That’s all for now - I have more thoughts on other Monkeybrain titles, but I’ll put them into another post.

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