Anthologies are underused and under-appreciated, especially for comics. Where most issues at least tangentially rely on years of continuity and backstory, an anthology story puts the reader right in the middle of a brand new story and allows anyone to enjoy the ride. Instead of recurring characters, we have common themes and genres, which widen the range of possible stories we could see. Michael Robertson‘s Monsters, one of two currently available anthology volumes from Off-Kilter Comics, is exactly why we need more anthology comics, and why personally, I wish I had been exposed to more sooner.
The first of Monsters‘ two stories is “Monster”. It centers around Bran the Warrior, a downtrodden gladiator fighting to free his family from Moses, a shark-headed man seemingly in charge of the arena. His world is full of interestingly designed characters: other warriors with pig-heads, wolf-men, and what looks like if the Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man were actually threatening. In fact, the design of the whole world is great, a little like what we’ve seen so far of Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok. But the crux of “Monster” isn’t exploring its world, but instead exploring its main character. We’re dropped right in the middle of a fight, watching it through Bran’s eyes. We just as much about him as he’s willing to tell the other people in the story, which is telling of how close-to-the-vest he is.
Even though the best part of the short story is discovering more about Bran, the action is great as well. You can feel every punch in Bran’s fight with the lizard man, with great use of onomatopoeias throughout. The two-page spread at the end of the fight id definitely earned and is a moment worth holding onto. But, like any good anthology in the vein of The Twilight Zone, the ending is unexpected. It’s a twist I think is best saved for reading the book itself, but its strength relies on its emotional resonance. A fitting end for such a brutal, heart-pounding tale.
The second story is “Dumb Parasites”, which shifts us from Bran’s sandy arena to a group of space-suited men exploring a large cave. They’re looking for a stone that will greatly benefit them, but at the cost of all life on the parasite-filled planet they’re on. This beginning exposition dump feels forced, but it does get across the men’s prejudice against the parasites, which will come into play later. They grapple up a cave wall, in perfect Adam West Batman fashion, and find the stone they’re looking for. Chasing them the whole time are these so-far barely seen parasites, who maintain a eerie presence throughout the first half of the story. When the men finally leave the darkness of the cave, it’s a relief.
The ending of this story is also a twist better left unrevealed. It opts for a visual shock over an emotional payoff, which leaves me less affected than the twist of the first story. Still, the last panel is a wonderfully grotesque image. This story gets good in its second half, once we see just how ruthless these men are, especially their leader. I wish we knew more about why this stone was important to them, which would clarify if these men are are actually callous or just willing to do whatever it takes for a much greater good. It’s a good thing that I want to know more about the world of “Dumb Parasites”- that’s the drawback with a good anthology story, it’ll leave you wanting more. If writer Michael Robertson‘s other work is as good as “Monsters” was, then I certainly want more.
What themes would you like to see in an anthology book? Do you have any favourites? Give us your answers and thoughts about Monsters in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter! You can find out more about Monsters from Comixology too!