Miniseries Review: Monocyte #1-4, Ars Memoria: The Art of Memory and Monocyte OST

A comic review article by: Felicity Gustafson

I've thought long and hard about how to sum up Monocyte in a word and the closest I can come is indefinite. It's simply not possible to slap together a few sentences to define this comic in a quick and simple manner. This type of comic is built of sheer, powerful essence written to keep your mind in an abstract viewpoint. It's a little like being in a dream; fuzzy around the edges with a main focal point and a distinct, lasting feeling after you wake up. The world of Monocyte is a constantly shifting landscape built to leave a lasting impression on your mind. There are no clear cut lines in this story. It's meant to draw your thoughts out of their everyday shell and consider a new reality. Everything from the style of writing to the magnificent artwork pushes the limits of what people would call "just a comic book." If you have any doubts, flip through one of the four issues and you'll instantly be able to tell that Monocyte walks a different path from the norm. 

Monocyte takes place during a war between the Antedeluvians, an ancient race that feeds off of the psychic energy of humans, and the Olignostics, a race of immortals who use humans to fuel their immortality through technology. Apparently these guys are the more sinister looking cousins of the Montagues and the Capulets because they've been fighting for centuries and nobody seems to be winning. I suppose it's a good thing for the humans that the immortals don't all get along and unite into one giant feeding frenzy. Anyway, the "angel" Azrael decides he's had enough and sends Monocyte, the one-eyed, to destroy them all. One man against two immortal armies... no problem, right? It doesn't seem to be! Even the humans get in on a little of the action. Who would've guessed that flowers could be so liberating? 

 

It's no surprise that I generally review non-standard comics. Anyone who knows me understands that I crave originality and challenge comic creators to put something special out on the shelves instead of yet another canned superhero in tights coming to save the day. With Monocyte, I get everything I've asked for and then some. I cannot express how pleased I was after reading the first issue when it was released. However, it does take a certain type of person to appreciate Monocyte. It's not the kind of series that everyone will immediately take to. The extended vocabulary might be a little intimidating to beginning readers, but the wording is done in such a way as to set the perfect scene. It's obviously written that way to give an underlying, powerful feel to the story. It added a sense of thought-provoking that might have been absent otherwise. 

 

The series is targeted at a certain demographic of readers, which could be considered a double edged sword. On one hand, for the targeted audience, it makes for a fantastically astounding read. It hit just about every button I have and left me in a state of awe. On the other hand, this comic won't be for everyone. I get the feeling that it might be the type of story that would fly over the average person's head. The writing, in both style and vocabulary, is more of a giant leap beyond what is considered normal. I consider that key, though. I would prefer to be challenged to think. Period. There are some comics you read while relaxing after a tough day that are a simple adventure to deviate your mind from reality. Monocyte is not that kind of comic. It will leave you pondering your life and existence long after you've closed the book. It's the type of read that seeps into the cracks of your brain and takes up residence for days afterward. The type that leaves you with a profound feeling. There was one particular quote from the last issue that struck a chord with me. "I am that I am. I will be what I will be. I am He who is. I am what I choose to be.

Also, you know how every story always has that one villain that loves to monologue? Usually whines a lot, but lusts for power? Yeah, Monocyte has one of those too. His name is Grod. I would like to punch him in the face. Luckily he's limited to a few pages of ridiculous, egotistical verbal masturbation. He was really the only part of the whole series that I issue with and even then, it was more of an eye roll than actual irritation. 

I wouldn't be lying if I said that the artwork was what drew me to Monocyte in the first place. Menton's artwork is unique. It's easily identifiable from across a room in that it's so far advanced from most artists. One thing I've noticed is that shading is key. A little shadow here and some darker shading there can create an entirely different picture and give it a more sinister feel. Very rarely is there ever just one shade of color in any given space. Everything has a texture to it. Most of his pages look more like watercolor and acrylic paintings rather than the standard comic art panel. It's obvious that a lot of work is put into every inch. There's also an abundance of symbolism that gives that extra little pull to intrigue the reader into looking beyond the words on the page. I especially enjoyed the references to the Catholic church and the circular symbols that Menton puts in almost all of his artwork. There's also galleries and side stories in the back of each issue by a considerable list of great artists like Riley Rossmo, David Stoupakis, Ben Templesmith, Chris Newman, Bill Sienkiewicz, George Pratt, Barron Storey, and Steve Niles. Can't really argue with that collection, can you?

Not only is Monocyte a four issue miniseries, but it also comes with some added bonuses. Ars Memoira: The Art of Memory, was written before Monocyte. It was a self published book originally intended to be 1 out of 16 and Monocyte ties in with that. Ars Memoria is more of a backstory; it gives added insight into the character of Augustus. It poses the question of, "what is memory? When you dream, where do you go? Would you enter the darkest parts of your psyche for someone you love?" I will admit to being a little bewildered with the story. I understood the basic concepts of what was going on, but I felt a little like a volleyball being tossed back and forth over a net. Don't get me wrong, I loved the story, but I feel like it should've been fleshed out a little more. Of course that was before I realized it was only the first part out of sixteen. There was an absolutely captivating epilogue written by Tim Hall Rudisill on symbology, psyche and memory. While the book was a little short, it was an engrossing read and I'd highly suggest you take a look if you love to ponder the recesses of the human mind. If you're looking for something extra special, Menton's offering Ars Memoria books with sketches on his website where he'll include a small sketch on the inside cover. The sketch is removable if you feel inclined to hang it on a wall or something. Yes, I did buy one. What? Don't judge me. 

Another bonus is the soundtrack by Saltillo. Why yes, this miniseries does have its own soundtrack. I feel like some kind of cheesy salesman you see on the television with the line of, "but wait! There's more!" Despite the line, there really is. There was a team working on every angle of Monocyte, right down to the details of music. I do have to say though, Saltillo really doesn't disappoint. If I had to imagine a soundtrack for this series, I'd say it hit spot on. It's a 12 track industrial themed collection trimmed with violins, cellos and some minor vocals. Obviously some songs have more vocals than others, but for the most part, the singing/quoting was minimal and focused more on the music-- as a soundtrack should. I'm not a professional music connoisseur or anything, but I do know good music when I hear it and I just flat out loved the whole CD. I can't really say much more than that. There will be another soundtrack by Saltillo coming out some time in the future, but as far as I know there haven't been any release dates or even a name posted yet. Anyone who likes industrial beats coupled with strings should seriously give this CD a listen. It was well worth the money. Here's a clip of "If Wishes Were Catholics," which was one of my favorites on the soundtrack. Again with the Catholic references... but anyway, I adore the female vocals in this song. She has a beautiful voice that goes perfectly with the melody and the beats come in at exactly the right moment. Most of the songs don't have singing, instead it's more of a narration of prose or quotes from the comic. 

There will be a 224 page oversized, hardcover trade paperback collecting issues #1-4 and artist galleries, so if you haven't started Monocyte yet and feel the urge, it's up to you if you want the individual comic issues or if you would rather wait for the hardcover. You could always do both if you really loved the series. There will be some changes to the hardcover that will be different from the comics. Obviously it's an oversize, so they'll have to re-letter the whole book and it's been confirmed that there will be some changes to the  art panels. It's available for preorder through the comic shops and releases some time in July. So many preorders! 

Overall, I pretty much fell in love with Monocyte, if you couldn't already tell. It's the perfect example of why I got into comics in the first place -- creativity at its best. My hat's off to Kasra and Menton, along with all the guest writers and artists. If you're looking for something different, something that will make you think, something intensely fucking fantastic that demands to be read, then you really should give this series a try. You won't be disappointed. 

On a side note, if you really like Menton's artwork, there's a new self published art book, Tropes and Loci, which is basically a collection of all Menton's artwork from the beginning to his current work. He's offering some extra goodies like paintings and sketches on the inside covers for an extra price, like he did with Ars Memoria. The book can be preordered on his website, too.

 


 

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Felicity Gustafson was born in Ohio and, after the astounding realization that there was more to do than look at trees and cows, she decided to become a nerd and got into comics, anime and video games. At Comics Bulletin, she sticks mostly to reviewing things out of the horror and comedy genres. She spends most of her time working in the manufacturing industry, finishing her computer degree and steadfastly avoiding ham fat at all costs.

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