In the world of Western comic books, there are five basic categories. You have Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and the independents. The former four are often considered the Big Four, while every comic not made by them is stuffed into the independents category. Because of the lack of a big company name, independent comics tend to get overlooked by the public, which is a shame because if it weren’t for independent publishers, we wouldn’t have great books like Atomic Robo, one of my personal favorite Western comic books.
I was very pleased to hear that another independent comic publisher would throw their hat into the ring this July. After teasing the release with their “Independents Day” ads, Monkeybrain Comics has officially been born, and it’s released five new comics exclusively through Comixology. There’ve been talks of physical copies being released later on, but right now you can buy all of their comics digitally for dirt cheap. While they’re shorter than the 20-plus page issues we’re used to seeing, at 99 cents each, they’re worth it, and they show promise as ongoing stories. Since I’ll be covering five comics in one article, I won’t be as in-depth with each as them as I would with a single comic review. I’ll be listing the good and the bad for each comic, figuring out which comics would best suit you.
Script: J. Torres
Art: Jennifer L. Meyer
The issue opens with a summary. “Animals on the Ark exchanging anecdotes. Sharing stories to weather the storm. Fables will keep them afloat during the flood. Listen. And Learn.” The first issue deals with animals on Noah’s ark trying to keep a leak closed. One of the turtles has plugged the hole, but no one else wishes to help him until a lion tells them a story, warning them about the consequences of not helping with another’s load.
Aside from one page, the entire book is done in black and white illustrations. Despite the lack of color, it looks gorgeous and extremely detailed. Every animal looks realistic, and yet they have enough expression to look personified without looking like cartoon animals. It’s a delicate balance that’s been pulled off perfectly. The fable told by the lion is a good moral tale, one that’s dark but sensible.
While the fable he tells is nice, we don’t get a real feel for the character of the lion. This doesn’t seem to be a character-driven series, meaning the real drive will be the fables.
Aesop’s Ark has the feel of a good children’s book. It’s a cute story with amazing artwork and a good moral. I’d recommend it to comic book readers who want to share comics with their young kids or siblings.
Writers: Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride
Artist: Nick Brokenshire
Amelia Cole lives in two worlds: the magic and the non-magic. Only Amelia and her aunt Dani know how to travel between these worlds, but this all changes when a persuasion demon attacks the non-magic world and Amelia becomes a fugitive of the magic world. With nowhere else to turn, she’s forced into a world she’s never known before.
Right away the book focuses on building the worlds of Amelia Cole. It starts in media res with Amelia fighting the persuasion demon and showing how deadly persuasion demons really are. It shows Amelia as someone who knows magic well and can deal with dangerous foes. The twist at the end of the story leaves room for endless adventure and opportunities. It’s also the longest of the Monkeybrain issues, passing the 20 page mark.
Despite being the longest of the books, it has the worst pacing of the bunch. The problem is that while it tries hard to establish the worlds and Amelia’s capability as a mage, it leaves little room for anything else. We see a friend of Amelia’s in the non-magic world, but she’s essentially a quick cameo. Her aunt Dani is important, but we don’t spend much time with her either. Because of how fast this issues plows through the plot, we’re left with little time to care for the characters.
Pacing issues aside, this is a fun read for those interested in some urban fantasy. The art is pretty good, and the next issue could really go anywhere. If the series can slow down and take advantage of its page length, it could be a solid series.
Writer: Paul Tobin
Artist: Colleen Coover
Bandette is a modern-day French thief in a similar vein as Arsene Lupin. She steals from bad guys, but there’s no word on whether she keeps the stolen goods or gives them to the poor like Robin Hood. During one of her heists, a man known as Monsieur is called to steal something called the 1794 American Flowing Hair Dollar.
What I like most about the Monkeybrain comics is the diversity of art. Bandette’s art style is reminiscent of European adventure comics such as Tintin, but with a unique flair thanks to the quality inking by Colleen Coover. There are some fun jokes made, and we’re introduced to several characters and their personality quirks early on. We also see what makes Bandette special as a thief; she has a network of friends who are able to cover her escapes and a costume that can be reversed into a bag and skirt for a quick wardrobe change.
This is more of a nitpick, but Bandette talks too much during her heist. Playful banter is nice, but when there’s only one character and a dog on the page, there’s no need to talk during every panel, especially when said character is trying to be sneaky.
This is my favorite of the Monkeybrain Comics alongside my last entry of the list, and probably the most fun. There’s a nice hook at the end of the comic hinting at an even grander heist, but this small heist was enough to grab my attention. If you’re just looking for a fun time, pick up Bandette.
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Dennis Culver
Edison Rex is the world’s smartest man and greatest criminal genius. Valiant is the world’s strongest man and the protector of the earth. They’re ready to have their final showdown until Edison convinces Valiant that he’s a threat to the world and must be removed. Now Edison must become protector of the earth.
Edison Rex and Valiant are clearly pastiches of Lex Luthor and Superman, but with a twist. Lex has often called Superman a threat to humanity, but his counterpart is actually right, and the explanation for why is pretty clever. Watching a man who once tried to conquer Earth instead protect might be fun in later issues.
While I’ve praised the artwork in the other Monkeybrain books, I can’t stir up that same love here. The art isn’t bad, but it looks stiff and blocky. It’s strange seeing Edison as buff as Valiant, the strongest man on Earth. It would have helped the comic if Edison had a different body type from Valiant, but the comic chose not to go this route. There are also several panels where the same facial expression is repeated.
The concept of the story is enough for me to recommend it. It’s the only true superhero story by Monkeybrain Comics, but it has a nice twist. As much as I don’t like the art, I’ve seen far worse and it’s easy to get over.
Writer and artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Adulthood never turns out the way we expect it. What we believed as a child never sticks, including our imaginary friends. However, as Autumn will find out, sometimes our childhoods have a way of coming back in unexpected ways.
The first issue is dedicated entirely to setting up Autumn as a character. We spend most of the comic reading her thoughts, her fears, and her problems. Her plight is a realistic one. She’s a woman who’s entering the adult world and she’s realized how much it can suck. She never once comes across as whiny and instead becomes sympathetic. The end hints at the plot taking a turn for the more fantastical, but so far, it’s the most realistic of the Monkeybrain books. Once again, the art is unique from the other books, using white, black, and blue to create some stunning shading and shadows.
With the exception of Amelia Cole, these issues are very short, and this short length is The October Girl’s biggest flaw. You get sucked into the story, only to have it end within a few minutes.
Short length is a very small flaw in the grand scheme of things, especially when it’s only the first issue. This and Bandette were my favorite of the Monkeybrain books, having the right blend of great art and creative storytelling, but if you had to twist my arm and ask me to recommend only one Monkeybrain comic, it would be The October Girl.
I hope this list helped you decide if you want to invest in Monkeybrain Comics. There’s a lot of potential in this new brand for unique creator-driven stories that we don’t see from the Big 4. I think comic book readers need to expand their horizons every now and then, and this is a good way to do just that. If Monkeybrain releases more comics, I may review them.