(Ben Wolstenholme/ Liam Sharp/ Fin Cramb; Titan Comics)
When I first had the opportunity to check out Mono #1, I jumped on it without hesitation. After reading the book I was left in disappointment. I liked the ideas and I wanted to like the story. Everything was there for a great story, but everything was just in the wrong places for it to work for me. Thankfully, I’ve been given the chance to look over the second issue in Mono: The Old Curiosity Shop because this second issue is great.
This second issue continues with our gentlemanly ape, Mono, searching for the ghost of Christmas future to have some words. The problem is Mono is stuck in Axis-occupied Caen, France and he’s dodging bullets left and right.
Ben Wolstenholme’s art goes beyond what I had originally expected (or perhaps appreciated) out of this story. It’s like I’m reading issue #2 with a new set of eyes compared with issue #1. The panels in this issue are heavily detailed with lines that provide texture, depth and space. While at first the immense amount of line work in the panels may seem overbearing, it requires a look past the lines to see how Wolstenholme is representing the story. There are bits of Gothic art and romanticism mixed into his artwork, fitting for being set in France.
Romanticism placed an emphasis on true emotional representation, especially horror and awe. This couldn’t be better shown in Mono #2. From the very first scene when Mono is passing through an old couple’s home, we see the apprehension in the couple’s faces. There is a sense of awe at this giant ape-man standing before them. “Dear God” is all they say. We only see his hand, which takes up a quarter of this large panel, but it’s enough to evoke an overwhelming feeling. Mono is known as the gentlemanly ape, however, and offers nothing but peace to the old couple, calling them friends and carrying no ill-intent.
Fin Cramb’s coloring is wonderful. With all of the dark lines and movement in the panels, the coloring is extremely important in narrowing the focus.
The setting is made up of dim, dark places caught up in wartime. Shadows and crimson stains mark the bloody battlefield. There’s a suffocating feeling of horror throughout the entire issue, but Cramb’s attention to lighting makes all of the difference. Whether it’s unnatural light, candlelight or fire and recoil from the battlefield, light guides readers to the central focus of each panel. It’s careful and feels natural to the story’s setting, when there is no light, we don’t see what’s lurking.
Liam Sharp’s script is often poetic and internalizes Mono’s feelings and true character. The duality of Mono’s fierceness and civil-nature is starting to reach the surface and build complexity into his character. It allows readers to see the humanness of Mono alongside the brute physicality of his primal aspect.
The story continues with Mono’s search: breaking up a card game, dodging German soldiers and doing what he has to do to survive. There’s a variety of panel layouts used in this issue that work in favor of the story being told, whether it’s to depict violent action scenes or contemplative, reflective moments. There were moments in the first issue that confused me due to the panel sequences, but Wolstenholme’s layouts in this issue are spot on. These scenes are broken up by Mono’s reflective journal entries and give the story a sense of time and place. He’s not moving swiftly through enemy occupied territory. He’s careful, taking his time and staying alive.
About halfway through the issue we’re introduced to General Heinrich Eberbach. The General’s entrance is comprised of five vertical panels that take up nearly the entire length, top to bottom, of the page. He’s walking down the hallway of an ornate house. With each panel he gets closer and closer, evoking suspense. It’s a grand entrance for a villain. The panels are contrasted black and white, compared to the rest of the issue so far and continue to boast Cramb’s ability to capture light effectively and Wolstenholme’s knack for pacing.
The scene that follows is uncomfortable. We meet Isabella, a French woman who Heinrich calls “darling” despite her formally calling him by his military title. This scene is one Sharp should be proud of. There is uneasiness in Isabella and Heinrich’s conversation over dinner, filled with awkward pauses and talk of the war advancement. We find out that Heinrich has stashed numerous artifacts in the house, protecting them from destruction like the rest of the city. Heinrich goes off on a monologue about how he’s a warrior, how his father and grandfather were warriors – it’s what they do. These scenes feature portrait-like stills of Heinrich in the background as he speaks, putting his efforts on display. He senses there is something wrong when his servant Wilhelm has not come back with the wine.
This culminates to my favorite sequence in the issue. It’s a slightly different sequence that contrasts nicely with Heinrich’s introduction. Mono is shown coming down the hallway in suspenseful, dramatically slanted panels. The hallway is darker and looks blurry, like the panels are out of focus. Mono swings from the chandelier and lurks down the hallway looking for Heinrich.
This creative team has caught my attention with this issue and if you were on the fence after reading issue #1 like I was, give the gentlemanly ape a second chance. Mono #2 is moody, suspenseful and everything I wanted from number one, but better.