American Monster has plenty of dark and grisly small town happenings to appease anyone who’s looking for a change from the usual superhero comicbook drama.
A colourful cast of characters including gangsters, gas station clerks, war veterans and smalltown youth all share pages, and writer/creator Brian Mazzarello uses them to touch on a number of social themes that arent always addressed in other mainstream comicbooks. Questions about corruption, moral decay, racism, infidelity, crime, murder, perversion, greed, violence, political correctness, war and the treatment of war veterans are all explicitly raised without the comic getting preachy about it.
Like any good first issue, the debut serves its purpose of leaving readers awash in mystery – we aren’t clued in on who the big red man is, or what he’s upto in the small town. What’s the connection between Cam, who works at the gas station, and Snow, who makes a quick bit of cash by flashing the town pervert on a seesaw at the local park? Why does the mysterious out-of-towner seem to intently press a fat wad of bills into a newspaper headlined “Bank Heist,” and are Felix and Josh the same soldiers we see in the war-time flashback? We aren’t even fully convinced yet that the ‘monster’ in the title is referring to one character in particular, and perhaps this is what the writer was going for.
If people go back and buy the follow up issues to the debut, it’ll be because they really were captivated by the mystery in issue 1. We are presented with scenes that unfold largely in chronological order (Azzarello opted for just one flashback scene), and are taken to various points around an American town whose name is never revealed. The writer employed a technique wherein he opted for a lack of scene captions.At times, it was difficult to decide whether this was brilliant or annoying – maybe the writer was the monster he was warning us about! Dun, dun, dun!
But it couldn’t be all roses without a thorn or two, and you kind of get the feeling that the long list of characters aren’t given enough expository dialogue, leaving one to wonder whether the project was maybe just a little too heavy handed in some areas while leaving other aspects wanting, such as giving readers enough of a reason to care about the characters.
For all the moral questions it raises though, this isn’t a preachy comic and is grimly entertaining. Juan Doe’s figures are clean and easy to follow, and he’s made great use of a colour palette that’s purposeful and effective. His liberal use of reds, and darker, sober tones are ideal vehicles for the story’s mature and darker subject matter.
Dark and ominous, with standout cover art and design, American Monster should make for a more satisfying read when the follow-ups are out, or when the trade comes out. But anyone who’s cool with being teased for an entire month would like this fine comic from Aftershock Comics.
Creator and writer – Brian Azzarello
Artist – Juan Doe