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Monsters Unleashed #1 (Review)

Monsters Unleashed #1 (Review)
Marvel Comics, January 18, 2017
Writer: Cullen Bunn

“Monsters Unleashed” is a new crossover miniseries from American comic book publisher Marvel Comics. This story brings together majority of its mainstream character properties in a single story, and gives them the unenviable task of dealing with the onset of a prophesized apocalyptic event. The prophesy is grim: gigantic monsters attack the Earth en masse and rid it of human beings.

Perhaps we are jaded, but the first issue feels unique for a superhero crossover event, as it does not involve the heroes fighting each other on some artificial pretext. This is clearly a premise from which American superhero comic books should take a break. Instead, the story starts with the Avengers fighting a giant tentacled monster, and then greeted by yet another giant monster falling from the sky.

After the second monster’s appearance the heroes realize that the incident is not isolated. There are monsters attacking different parts of the world, with each one being handled by that region’s coterie of superheroes (we get brief shots of the fights involving the Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-Men, the Inhumans, the Champions, and Black Panther, among others.)

Peripheral to the monster attacks are several subplots that attempt to provide a backstory to the monsters’ coordinated attacks. This is the foreshadowed ancient prophecy that tells of an entity responsible for summoning the monsters, and a bored young boy named Kei who is apparently the summoner. We also get a brief skit featuring the hyper intelligent Inhuman girl named Moon Girl planning to get to the bottom of things, using “science.”

While “Monsters Unleashed” # 1 showcases’ writer Cullen Bunn’s admirable ability to interject humor into his stories without coming off as hokey or unnecessarily snarky (there is, for example, a brief, amusing exchange within the comic as to whether it is pretentious to identify the monsters as “Kaiju” if the monsters appear outside of Japan – a poke in the ribs at fans of that Japanese manga genre), the comic as a whole falls flat.

The problems with the comic is twofold. First, we have difficulty accepting that the monsters are really a problem for superheroes. Marvel Comics’ current continuity is home to various superhuman individuals of breathtaking power, many of whom individually would have no trouble dispatching a reptilian titan, regardless of its enormity.

Second, and a more glaring issue, is that the premise is nothing but a jumbled mess of all-too-familiar elements. Giant monsters, even in the volumes presented in this comic, falling towards Earth, as a concept is nothing new. And end-times prophecies are a dime-a-dozen in fantasy fiction. There is no innovative twist to the formula other than instead of being fought by giant robots, the monsters are fought by superheroes. (Incidentally, DC Comics had superheroes fighting a giant space monster recently in “Justice League #1: Rebirth” and it was dreadful.)

Our conclusion is this: Shrugging away the flashy fight scenes (which are well-rendered and enjoyable), there is nothing of substance within this first issue of “Monsters Unleashed” for us to recommend. Perhaps the refried cliches are the point, and this is an unabashed American adaption of Japanese formula – an in-joke to readers who have watched movies such as “Godzilla” or “Pacific Rim”, or translated Japanese cartoons such as “Neo Evangelion”.

But, in the Japanese tradition, it is the kaiju which are meant to be mindless: the story about the kaiju is not.