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I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Monsters, Windsor-Smith's first release in a decade and a half. A day after delivery, I am still in awe of the beauty, the power, the mastery of his line work, and his true story-telling abilities. I would rate Barry Windsor-Smith as one of the top 25 comic artists of all time. Monsters proves it. For the amount of pages, the high quality printing and binding, and it's black and white format (thank you, Barry!), this book far surpasses the cost. Worth every penny twice-over.
I was worried that my expectations were too high when I began Monsters. I'm easily duped by blurbs, and the critics and writers who freely toss around words like "masterpiece" and "genius" have left me skeptical. However, Monsters deserves all that praise and then some. As the story goes on, we keep going further back into history, digging deeper into the past to find traumas that caused all the damage that ripples out through time and space and leaves many scarred and emotionally deformed. A perfect melding of concept and technique that left me stunned.
BWS's revisionist masterpiece takes some familiar comic book tropes - the Hulk (with a nice Easter Egg c/o a blowhard army officer called Roth with a second-in-command called Talbot), Captain America and even his own Wolverine "Weapon X" story - and reimagines them in a far more realistic manner. In doing so, it takes them to sophisticted yet utterly immediate places that are almost unprecedented.
The art is probably the best of Windsor-Smith's career, which is saying something, and all aspects of it - the storytelling, the characterisation, the mood and the sheer wonder of his ink line - are impeccable. The writing is complex (juggling several different plot elements, timelines and themes), nuanced (covering a wide range of clearly differentiated, convincing characters) and moving, to the extent that at times the tragic and horrific events make it almost too painful to read. Somehow, he manages to give us an ending which, if not exactly happy, is optimistic, and a pertinent reminder of the importance of shared humanity at a time when many of us feel it's in rather too short supply. An element of what could be considered mysticism is involved in the plot resolution, but BWS is too smart to fall for a deus ex machina ending, and you can, if you wish, read it as metaphor. Either way, it works. If it has a message, it's the simple but true point that the true monsters aren't necessarily the ones who are ugly on the outside. BWS clearly absorbed that from the early Marvels he loved as a kid and to which this book is - among many other things - a beautiful tribute.
I was gripped from the first page and read the whole thing, utterly engrossed, in one uninterrupted sitting, and the old cliche "emotional rollercoaster" never rang more true. It is, at various times, funny, alarming, exciting and profoundly moving. This isn't just the best graphic novel I've read in years, it's one of the best novels, full stop, I've read in years, and if there is any justice (which, sadly, is unlikely) it will win every award going.
This is an incredible, beautifully crafted work, with consistently stunning artwork and an engaging, multilayered story which is harrowing yet hopeful, and one I'm sure I'll return to many times. I originally heard that this was simply Barry Windsor Smith's retelling of the Hulk's origin story, but it is far, far more than that.
I love this book for its consummate draughtsmanship and narrative complexity. Something happens near the end though, with a rather thin reliance on the supernatural to resolve the story; and the artwork loses depth and finish. The sheer visual virtuosity of the preceding 350 pages creates a momentum that carries the reader through to the end, but with lack of detail and less confident linework, the later panels pale in comparison. I’m sure there is a story behind this and I would love to hear Barry Windsor Smith’s take on it, but my guess would be that after all that time and laborious work, an opportune deadline may have been a factor. However, in spite of my reservations about the last 15 or so pages, this is a stunning achievement in nuanced graphic storytelling.
The inked artwork is a display of masterful cross hatching. There are some great intertwining stories and a moment which breaks the fourth wall in a way that is genius, but so subtle you can miss it.
I had never heard of this book before and bought it based on reviews. I wasn't sure what I expected and whilst I do think it is a good story, I feel as though a lot of it is downright depressing and drawn out when that section of the story could have been wrapped up 80 pages before. It is good as I say, but it's genuinely heartbreaking in parts and those sections are padded out making the book not particularly enjoyable.
PROS: Amazing art, interwining story. CONS: Middle of the book is padded out and depressing.
Great quality binding and paper, clear print. The book arrived undamaged which is a bonus as Amazon are rubbish at packing books. The story is a bit slow paced for my liking and a bit gloomy, but over well over 300 pages of Barry Windsor Smith art ! Well worth a purchase.