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The Monolith #1

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2003
By: Jason Brice



Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Artist: Phil Winslade

Publisher: DC Comics

Plot:
We’re introduced to a set of diverse and dynamic characters, set firmly in the heart of the DC Universe’s New York City. In the tradition of a Hollywood blockbuster, opening with a high-tension hostage/robbery sequence, this initial outing acquaints us with the titular character, and Alice Cohen, who appears to be his conduit into the present. In the second half of the book we get an idea of the Monolith’s history via a richly detailed flashback sequence set in depression era New York. Put upon by mobsters, a rag-tag community group creates a gigantic clay monster to mete out street justice.

Comments:
Those who are unfamiliar with Palmiotti and Gray’s work will be in for a treat with this book; fans of their previous collaborations in the Wildstorm Universe will be doubly thrilled. In Monolith the pair have crafted a story that resonates with the traditions of past storytelling and storytellers (more on that later!), and brings new freshness to the DCU.

We hardly get a glimpse of the Monolith in this double-length debut, but it doesn’t seem to matter as the other characters, including the delightful Alice, push the narrative forward adroitly. It appears that Alice will feature as a “fish-out-of-water” character: a troubled street kid who suddenly inherits a ramshackle house across the river in Brooklyn. She’s got the double burden of kicking her drug habit and leaving her past behind, as well as dealing with the manifestation of the Monolith in the cellar in the aforementioned spooked out mansion.

The story is steeped in its Judaic roots; for all intents and purposes Monolith could be just as easily be called “Golem”, and while the second half of the story features a diversity of characters, it primarily motivated by the struggles of an immigrant community and the narrative is strongly influenced by Jewish lore. Palmiotti and Gray are careful not to alienate readers by over-emphasizing this aspect of the story, but it remains prominent nonetheless. The storytelling draws on other immigrant stories based in New York, from “The Godfather” to “Gangs of New York” and paints an extremely absorbing picture.

Phil Winslade is to be commended. It’s obvious that a huge amount of research went into the illustrations, and even in the black and white preview I read the art is extremely lush and atmospheric. He does well in capturing Alice’s vitality, and the Monolith’s quiet menace. Much of Winslade’s strength lies in that he is able to make ordinary people appear dramatic and real, no mean feat in a business that often relies upon capes and costumes to substitute for human emotion. It will be interesting to see how the Monolith (and his cast) will work visually with other DC heroes, as we are promised appearances by DC’s big guns in subsequent issues.

If there is one criticism I have with the book, it is that it’s rather obvious that the 44 pages were initially two separate issues. I’m sure this is an editorial decision made with good reason, as the second half of the book may be a little impenetrable had a reader picked it up without reading the first part. Given this decision, it might have paid to rework the flow of the story slightly, interspersing the historical material with the present day narrative. But considering the device that is used to introduce the back-story, Alice reading a journal aloud in her new cellar, such a change in pacing would have proved difficult if the decision to concatenate the issues was made at a late stage in the production process.

Final Words:
I’m hoping for a long run of this title. A very long run. Monolith will need time to develop and tease out all the story potential inherent in the concept of the character, an embodiment of New York City fighting to redress the injustices besetting the city’s underclasses. Palmiotti and Gray have a huge palette to work with, and Winslade appears more than able to provide the visual brush-strokes. With this review I hope to encourage readers and retailers alike to support this book whilst it is being offered for pre-order in Previews. And tell your friends, too. Monolith is going to be a huge storytelling experience.



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