"It turned out to be a visit to the living hell of another world…" – Godzilla, King of the Monsters
Are post-apocalyptic dreams so hard to beat? Do we lust them for now because it puts our own situation into perspective? Or is it simply easier to watch the world burn than to contemplate fixing it? More simply: do I like watching giant robots fight giant monsters over hollowed out great cities because it's cool or because something is wrong with me and my era? Blame Michael May and Jason Copland for the philosophical quandary as their Kill All Monsters! has me doing the monster mash in my head, blasting Savages as a mostly uninhabited Paris turns into the battlefield for awfully big things.
Set in an alternate timeline where civilization as we know it basically collapsed in the '50s due not to the Cold War but to the very real threat of giant fucking monsters, Kill All Monsters! is a comic that knows how to make an entrance. In the first volume, May and Copland don't exactly disclose a lot of details about how the end times all went down and instead we're thrust right into present day, as a squadron of mecha-monster hunters face off against some nasty beasties in a Paris that went straight from Nazi invasion to monster invasion. The opening chapter is a mess of confusion and erraticism in the best way– aren't these gundam pilots concerned with collateral damage? Did they really just use the Eiffel Tower as a weapon? Who's going to pay for the rebuilding costs? As readers, we're left crossing our fingers in the hopes that answers will come as we buckle ourselves in and watch the carnage.
It's a bold move, sure, but May's got fight scripting down pat and with a partner like Copland, he knows he can trust the action. Copland's work here is frenzied and visceral, gritty in content and form as gooey black blood leaks out from his horrific creations and bombed out urban centers become even more of a mess. Visually, you're drawn everywhere, hellbent on learning every detail of every panel, even as the action is unfolding at a brisk pace. Copland knows how to make the starkness of the black and white form work for him, shifting from the manic insanity of the boss battles– where ink splatter itself is kind of a star– to the ultra clean and smooth linework of his human-to-human scenes. Where the monsters purposefully have trouble holding their form, their very beings a kind of chaos, Copland's people are smooth, which is fitting given their status as soldiers who are meant to stay calm at all times, no matter how many titans are crawling all over them.
May doesn't quite yet have the same handle on the characters that Copland does, he struggles here and there with making their dialogue natural rather than forced and clunky, but he's assembled quite the cast, from the mysterious leader Rashad to the seemingly misunderstood AI Archer to the field agents who get most of the focus in the action in Paris. Most monster works are by design focused on the monster– Godzilla fans don't give a shit about who he's stomping, or why– but May wants you to feel for the humans who have to deal with these creatures, since this is a story not about a first attack, but about a world after monster defeat. Kill All Monsters' hook is that monsters have already conquered most of the planet and at this point we're just trying to survive, and this first arc is devoted to fleshing out what that means. In our post-monster world, the survivors in places like Paris are basically just nomadic tribes, removed enough from civilization that the troops joke about them probably not even knowing what a computer is. And even though monster rule is something that is an everyday part of life, the origins of the monsters, and the other mutations that are happening, are still unknown.
That puts Kill All Monsters! in a very different headspace than the kinds of post-apocalyptic tales that are en vogue right now. Where so many of those stories hinge on a prompt, like "What would you do if a Superman-like being lost his shit and took over the planet?" Kill All Monsters! implements its status quo and rules right away and essentially asks you to forget what you know about civilization as we know it, wiping the slate clean by half a century or so, which in turn gives Copland in particular a lot of freedom to get creative with the scenery. That frees Kill All Monsters! from forcing some kind of morality onto its plot, as well — survival is something we can all get behind, and knowing that things have been this way for a while keeps us from getting hung up on what mystery caused our calamity since our heroes are fighting that calamity on a daily basis and it won't go away any time soon. Instead the narrative thrust is towards the growth of the monsters, their origins, and the story is the better for it.
The way May has structured the plot is kind of genius, because it gives Copland all the more freedom to come up with crazy designs (in this volume alone we get everything from giant kraken things to some sort of gelatinous blob with a brain in the middle to a Sasquatch-yak hybrid that walks and yells and rips shit up) and also allows the two to keep this story going for as long as they want. Even the cast is open to restructuring, since we know they're a global monster task force that is based out of Africa, but we've only seen a handful of them at this point. Kill All Monsters! has a lot of room for growth, basically, and that's a great thing, because while you can never get enough monster fighting in a lifetime, you especially can't get enough well-written, deeply thought out monster fighting.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.