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The Monuments (review)

Creators: Michael S. Bracco, Oliver Mertz, Mike Isenberg

Independently published, 2018-2021

The most beautiful of all ruins, in science fiction, surely is that of the giant mecha.

Here is the promotional blurb for this 140 page graphic novel, The Monuments:

THE MONUMENTS is a 140 page, beautifully illustrated, mystery/adventure story from Oliver Mertz (FIRST LAW OF MAD SCIENCE, MAYBE SOMEDAY), Michael S. Bracco (THE CREATORS, NOVO), and Mike Isenberg (FIRST LAW OF MAD SCIENCE, FUBAR)…

THE MONUMENTS is about a fantasy world in which four warring city-states are forced to come together to face a common enemy: giant mysterious mechs. Right before wiping out the entire civilization, the mechs all power down for no clear reason, leaving the survivors to rebuild their world together.

800 years later. The world has moved on. The city-states are now united as one nation: a land littered with massive robotic relics that serve as monuments to a long-forgotten war.

After centuries of dormancy, one of these long-frozen mechs suddenly powers up, revealing a man who is confused, misplaced in time, and still very much alive.

The Monuments happened to be published slightly prior to the launch of Giga, an excellent periodical comic from Vault Comics also about giant abandoned war robots. There are some key differences. First, the robots in The Monuments are actually not robots: they are piloted vehicles, and this is critical to the plot. When a pilot is ejected from one of those robots, he is bewildered by his landscape, set 800 years in the future. Giga‘s robots are instead artificial intelligences housed in metallic titans, and some of them are still active. Second, most of Giga‘s robots are infested by humanity who have burrowed into their shells. The Monuments‘ robots are however protected by an energy field, and so civilisation instead builds around the static giants – here, a freeway detours around the twinned fists of a silent robotic monolith.

Like Giga, however, the giants have with the passage of time attracted a religious bureaucracy. Giga‘s religiosity features active gods, and intelligences who regard themselves as godlike. The monoliths in The Monuments are instead tombstones to an almost forgotten era, but subject to the oversight of The Order, who talk about desecretion of holy sites, “sleeping saviours”, and “Destructionists” as a cadre of anarchist blasphemers. But in The Monuments, this is cleverly executed so as to reveal the cynicism of those at the pinnacle of the religious hierarchy:

The creators of this comic, Michael S. Bracco, Oliver Mertz, and Mike Isenberg offer the reader the scenario of a person entirely displaced out of time. By way of analogy, we can imagine what it would be like for a 14th century Crusader was to pop out of a cave in Jerusalem. The disgorged pilot, named Eirest, is in that position entirely. He mutters about lost concepts – “the way of the Wolfe-Walter” and speaks strangely. Eirest falls upon the reluctant assistance of Nera, a women who manages a bar and who has the tragic background of witnessing her father’s violent death. The modern-day story is intertwined with the tale of the sudden stillness of the robots, 800 years before. Rather confusingly in chapter two, a third timeline, that of Nera’s childhood, is introduced to the story, but it does not last long. In the third chapter, we have another flashback which describes the beginning of the war with the “metal men”, and then a third flashback to the beginning of the troubles with the Destructionists. This tangle in the timeline of the plot could have been better executed.

The interaction between Eirest and Nera is, on the other hand, nothing but fun:

Intermingled with that humour, there is something quite profound about Eirest’s return to his home city, to discover it has been turned into an historical tourist attraction.

Eirest’s very significant role in history has been forgotten by the future, and a giant statue in his honour, in the centre of the city’s headquarters, has long gone.

Inevitably, the machines awake and destroy. The story also considers concepts around the death of the few for the benefit of the many, and loss and grief compounded not diluted by time, two unexpected and thoughtful themes in a story which on the face of it is about giant robots.

This is an excellent story. Little wonder it rapidly raised $50000 on Kickstarter. The title is available on Comixology: