“KAIJUMAX #1” (Comic Book Review)Book and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,News Svetlana Fedotov
While the giant monster movie subgenre, a/k/a kaiju, have never quite died away in popularity in their native country of Japan, the phenomenon has just recently re-ignited on the shores of the Western world. Thanks to Guillmero Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM and the newest GODZILLA film, we are once again in full swing of all things large and bizarre, including comics. Oni Press’s newest creature feature release, KAIJUMAX, takes advantage of the craze and shows us what happens after the urban-destroying monstrosities get locked up. A hilarious yet poignant look at life behind bars, the comic not only focuses on the social hierarchy of these monsters, but also on family and parenthood as our lead fights to escape the island in an attempt to find his children.
While the idea of super prison holding kaiju monsters sounds like it would be a laugh-a-minute riot, it’s surprisingly a lot more serious than one would think. As stated, the issue focuses on Electroger, a giant, electric lizard who was, essentially, at the wrong place at the wrong time and soon finds himself brought on to Monster Island Prison. Hauled in with a group of other incoming kaiju, he is quickly forced to learn the rules of the island if he wants to survive all while avoiding the ever-present eye of Warden Kang, an ULTRAMAN-type character with powers to grow to enormous heights.
Of course, the other prisoners quickly get word of the new meat, especially Electroger, knowing that the only reason he was even caught was that he was gathering food for his children. Figuring he would be easy to use, plots and double-plots are soon planned and as the various kaiju gangs fight for supremacy, Electroger is forced to do what they say if he ever wishes to see his family again.
The very first thing you notice about KAIJUMAX is the fantastic diversity and character design of the kaiju. Thanks to the one-man art-and-writing team, Zander Cannon, we get a very complete look of the inside of this island and even a mini-history of the kaiju monsters themselves. He brings in gangs of metallic monsters, four legged monsters, flying monsters, and even some dude in a top hat. For fans with knowledge of kajiu history, there are some very obvious creature homages to older kaiju monsters as well.
This comic is definitely done by a man who has done his research into the creatures, and, with the inclusion of the ULTRAMAN-esque guard, is most likely a fan as well. That also explains the chosen art style of the comic, one that sits between pop culture art and subdued anime. Cannon realizes that despite the somewhat heavy nature of the work, it is ultimately about giant monsters ripping up cities, a reality as far away from us as 1950’s renditions of living on Mars in bubble houses.
But don’t let the art discount the writing for you. Cannon brings a new depth to these creatures and, though he’s got this cartoony vibe in the art, he focuses on relationships, fear, survival, and family instead of just giant monsters uprooting buildings. He takes emotions that are generally set aside for the human counterparts and gives them to Electroger and his compatriots. Electrogers concern for his family above even his own survival crosses animal and human boundaries while Warden Kang’s hate for all things gigantic and scaly creates a character who is imbued with monster characteristics; that is, killing anything that is a threat. In fact, it’s a bit of a reflection on the earlier Kaiju movies that, yes, had rubbery suited creatures smashing power lines, but were also heavy handed allegories on survival, destruction, and nuclear war.
Being serious while also being a bit goofy go hand-in-hand in both the movies and in KAIJUMAX, making this comic one of the truer –and much more interesting- of the kaiju comic adaptations. A unique inclusion to the growing mythos of Japanese monsters, this is definitely a work we will be seeing more of.