Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Juan Doe
Release Date: 11th May 2016
I’ve been stalling over this review for a couple of days now because I like American Monster so much. Sounds weird, right? I guess it is, in a way, but I wanted to take a little time to try and process why I like the title so much. The level of quality in today’s comics is at such a high standard that it’s sometimes hard to explain why this title is so good without it sounding like every other review out there.
American Monster is different though. There is no titular hero here to cheer on, there is no great obstacle for our protagonist to overcome – at least, not in the conventional sense of things. This isn’t a story where the reader can daydream about rubbing shoulders with the characters and being the hero of his (or her) story. American Monster is the antithesis of this; it’s a spiraling and terminal descent into some kind of hell. It’s wretched. It is -at times- an uncomfortable read. It represents the potential we as human beings have to be completely evil. It’s completely compelling.
Author Brian Azzarello is in no hurry here either, the pacing of the story seems slow and deliberate. This allows these themes to grow, like air pressure building before a Thunderstorm. I know, it’s a too often used cliché, but it’s the best one I have. The slower pacing of the story is actually one of this titles greatest strengths, and Azzarello expertly blends his characters and scenarios. The transitions are seamless and you really need to read through it a few times just to appreciate how you are guided through each scene with little or no effort.
And yet, just beneath the surface, there is tension everywhere. The intro pages meld from the face of Snows dad, to the ‘rebirth’ of our titular character in flames, to a flashback of before the accident when he was in Afghanistan. In tandem to these panels are extracts of biblical text from Revelations being narrated. The artistic passage from silhouetted face lighting a cigarette, to the falling match, to a man burning alive, to the eyes of that man, to the view through those eyes from a person on the ground looking up at soldiers glancing down at him…. Juan Doe…. that was incredible. It’s one of those sections you read in a comic that, once viewed, you tell yourself THIS is why I read comics. THIS is why I love this medium, and what an incredible marriage of art and the written word a comic can be.
It’s uncomfortable; rage (or anger) is a prevailing constant to this story. The teenage rebellion of Snow and her friends was touched on in issues one and two, and a horrific consequence of those actions come to fruition in issue three. As the reader you know what is going to happen, and the aversion you feel is justified, yet you read on. The wake for Snow’s father’s friend (the victim from issue 2) is bristling with acrimony and it’s obvious it will end in fighting. Snow’s father is like an attack dog, ready to snap at any second, you just wait for it to happen.
Perhaps the most enthralling though is the violence distilled into the main character. The burned man emanates a primeval rage that he currently controls. There is a very real sense whenever he speaks that the control can (and will) be dropped at any point. That all hell will break loose, and as the reader you are practically holding your breath waiting for this scale to tip. No more so than at the end of the issue where Snow asks him if he is going to kill her. He thinks about it for a second. That panel, slightly abstract, Snow kneeling on the ground looking small and resigned, the burned man drawn slightly out of proportion as a hulking brute looking down on here seems incredibly significant – as does his answer.
American Monster is something special, of that I have no doubt. There is an emotional resonance in this title that speaks to the darker nature of the human condition, and I think it’s this very thing that makes it such a compulsive read. Brian Azzarello has created a truly terrifying titular character, his own version of Frankenstein’s Monster, with a singular intelligence and the potential rage of the Hulk. Brian and Juan are exploring the darker sides to humanity; places we know are there and where bad things take place. They are shining a light onto this most forbidden of fruits, and it’s a truly fascinating and terrible read, one you can’t stop yourself from partaking in.
The writer of this piece was: Andrew McGlinn
Andrew Tweets from @Jockdoom