American Monster #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist/Letters: Juan Doe
Cover artists: Juan Doe (regular)/Dave Johnson, Alexis Ziritt & Phil Hester
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Adding another title to my pull list these days isn’t something I’m quick to do in most cases, given rising costs (especially due to currency exchange rates these days), but the manager of my local comics retailer knows how to pull my strings. He points to a new crime title, written by Brian (100 Bullets) Azzarello and illustrated by Juan (Fantastic Four: Island of Death) Doe, and I’m sunk. As a lover of fine comics storytelling, I’m incapable of turning a blind eye to such a combination. Furthermore, this is an early release from a new publisher — Aftershock Comics — staffed by professionals with solid track records in the industry. While the first issue didn’t blow me away, I have to admit I’m quite intrigued. The harshness and intensity of the characters and circumstances of the plot come as no surprise, given they were crafted by Azzarello, and I definitely what to know more about them and what’s going on. Doe’s art took me off-guard, though, likely due to the fact I associate his style with a lighter tone and energy than the ugly world he help to bring to life here.
In a small town in the middle of Nowhere, America, a tall, gruesome stranger wanders into town, looking for someone to fix his ride and for a decent meal. In a place where nothing happens, his presence is a hell of a lot more than nothing. This stranger hides nothing — not his scarred face and not his disdain for all other people — and he’s more than willing to let those around him he’s dangerous. Nearby, a man who may be the only guy in the town who’s not knee deep in an economic downturn experiences a different kind of downturn when some old associates turn up, looking to settle some scores.
As my synopsis indicates, it’s not easy to tell exactly what the core plot of American Monster is about, at least not yet. Rather, it’s the intensity and pervasive mood of darkness that hooks the reader rather than some clever plot point or twist. This comic is hits all of the classic Azzarello marks. Those who enjoyed 100 Bullets will likely appreciate this issue as well.
Juan Doe’s art in this comic remains as exaggerated and energetic as I remember it from past works, but his work here also seems different, likely due to the subject matter. I was immediately put in mind of Robbi Rodriguez’s work from Spider-Gwen, which, I know, isn’t the darkest of comics, but the similarities in terms of character reactions and designs are what struck me. The title of this series would seem to refer to the hulking, burned ex-soldier who trudges into a small town, and Doe’s design and depiction certainly helps to grab the reader’s attention. There’s still a somewhat cartoony look to the character, but he never seems funny. As the comic suggests, he’s a monstrous figure, rotten to everyone around him and a threat in any place he finds himself. Some might be tempted to compare the character to Marvel’s Red Skull, given his appearance, but Doe manages to make him seem like something else. He’s a different kind of monster. How other characters react to him not only makes him more interesting and scary, but somehow more believable and grounded in the real world.
The only visual aspect of the comic that didn’t quite work for me the whole time was the colors. There’s a reliance on reds and violets to reinforce the violence of the story, as well as some muted, eerie green and yellow tones to foster a morose and downtrodden mood. Those deep colors and a lot of inky silhouettes sometimes obfuscated what’s happening, making for some confusing moments, though they were fleeting, fortunately.
What’s noteworthy about this book is that all of the characters are rather distasteful, even the bored teens passing their time and earning some cash in an ugly way. While the characters aren’t likeable, though, they’re undeniably interesting. As I read this comic, I was put in mind of True Detective, Season One, as well as Southern Bastards. The stories aren’t all that comparable, but I think it was more the atmosphere and the loathsome nature of key players. It’s a promising start to a new crime series, but the enigmatic nature of the characters and events call for patience from the reader and trust in the creators. 7/10
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