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Hello everyone, and welcome to the first actual review that I’ve put on this blog! I’m really excited about having a more official platform to do what I like best - talk about comics too much. There are spoilers ahoy, so be careful of what links you click on!
First on the table is Monster Pulse, written and drawn by Magnolia Porter. It has been up since May 27th, 2011, and is currently in its fourth chapter. The story, as summarized by Porter, is “an all-ages adventure story about kids whose body parts transform into fighting monsters.”
The story, as summarized by me, is about four children who have the luck - whether it is good or bad is unclear - to come across a mysterious substance that pulls one of their organs out of their bodies and turns it into a living, fully functional creature with extraordinary abilities. The opening sequence shows the main character, Bina, getting her heart ripped out of her chest and watching it transform into Ayo, a large archaic being with the powers of flight and super-strength and the personality of an intelligent dog. Soon afterwards, Bina meets Julie, a bald overzealous girl, with a monster named Kera who is made entirely of hair and has regenerative abilities (after all, hair always grows back); Abel, a strange young man with an eyepatch and a flying iris monster named Rixis that can shoot laser beams; and finally West, a seemingly quiet boy whose stomach monster Guuzy digests food for him and shoots…goo that does different things.
Connecting all four children is the shady organization known simply as SHELL, headed by the enigmatic Rjinder, whose entire face we have yet to see. SHELL deals with the volatile arma chemical, a substance that creates life from life. The organization knows as much about arma as the reader - it can be tracked but not contained or destroyed by anything besides itself, and has a tendency to float around in ghost form to attack people and turn their body parts into weapons. The SHELL employees conduct experiments on themselves and on the affected children using the chemical, but seem just as afraid of it themselves.
The artwork of the comic is a bit of a strange mixture - Porter has a very fluid style that allows for a lot of dynamic variation from panel to panel. She has a very specific, personal way of putting her lines down; it’s a style that perfectly suits the quieter, more drama-focused moments within the comics. When the style is applied to the action scenes, these dynamic lines definitely work in her favor. It’s a little jarring to see a style that seems like it belongs in a autobiographical comic used to depict giant monsters fighting each other, but that’s not to say it falls flat.
Her character designs are probably my favorite part of her artwork; Porter clearly likes studying the little details that make every person’s appearance unique. Thick bottom eyelashes, thin mustaches, large hips on thin girls, hooked noses, broad jaws and so forth; every character is distinct, an admirable achievement. The same goes for the monsters too, every one personifies their respective body part in unique, interesting ways.
The comic’s coloring and inking, however, does tend to falter at times. The entire comic is done in greyscale, which in some ways is much more difficult than full colors. It’s tricky to know how dark or light to make something, so people tend to stick somewhere in the middle of the value scale. The problem with this, naturally, is that things start to blend together at times, or read incorrectly.
For example, the monster, according to Porter, is supposed to be hanging in the background of the scene, well beyond the viewpoint of the market patrons.
However, by making the monster the same value as the main foreground element (the laser beam) the viewer is led to believe that the monster is much closer to the market than he actually is. The nice thing about greyscale is that you can push the values to your advantage - if this page were occurring in real life, the monster would probably be a lighter value since it is in the sunlight and further from our eye. However, if you darken the monster a few shades on the page, the reader will buy it, as well as the indicated distance between monster and marketplace. There’s a lot of room for experimentation here! I personally found the pages where the values were pushed to extremes to be the most engaging; they had significant visual impact and really brought me into the action.
This brings me to another issue I had with the comic, in terms of confusion. With a cast that’s mostly made up of preteens, there’s a fair amount of lightheartedness in a generally dark concept and I really enjoy that. However, Monster Pulse does exemplify an issue I see a lot with kid-centric stories - when adults become adults, they often forgot how children talk and act. Writing for children is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult things an author can undertake and it’s rare to pull it off perfectly. Children seem simple from our point of view, but when I read my old diaries from middle school, I remember just how important every little thing was to me. Kids see and think about everything they see much more than we give them credit for; they may act volatile and all-over the place emotionally, but when they are the same age as the ones in Monster Pulse, there is always a good explanation for their moods and actions. Most of the time protagonists’ motivations can’t be summed up into a single word - this goes for any kind of characterization.
So when Julie throws a tantrum about Bina befriending West, having it all explained away with “jealousy” doesn’t quite work. Julie’s supposed to be quite buoyant and friendly, so when she gets jealous about her friends talking for the first time, it reads more like a very simplified version of a six-year-old rather than an actual thirteen-year-old(ish?) character. The kids (not including Bina, who I’ll discuss in a moment) seem to revolve around one or two personality traits and I think they need a little more time and effort to develop as characters. They’re interesting traits, and I would love to know more about these people.
The reason I’m talking so much about the children, though, is to keep myself from full-on raving about the other characters. Kids are hard to write, but that’s not to say that adults are easy to write either; for every mistake Porter might have made regarding the children in the story, she more than makes up for it with the adult characters.
The comic opens up on a scene showing that Bina’s mother, Mrs. Blum, is also her teacher, and that Bina’s causing her a bit of trouble in school. When Bina overhears her mother badmouthing her to a teacher, it provokes the same small heartbreak one would feel listening to their own mother casually express disappointment in them. When Bina runs crying to her father for comfort, it’s a poignant moment that really stands out for its simplicity. The adults in Bina’s world might not have huge monster body parts being chased around by a shadowy organization, but their drama is as intriguing and important as anything else. Bina’s internal conflict reflects this, and as such she is the most well-done of the younger characters.
My favorite part of this comic by far is Lulenski, the SHELL employee charged with rounding up the alpha specimens created by the arma ghosts, which are the children and their monsters. It’s clear that she’s being manipulated to some extent previous to the start of the story - a former biologist who’s now being charged with detaining children at any cost in the name of science - but her boss, Rjinder, wants to subject her to arma treatment as well, thus turning her into one of the specimens she’s supposed to be tracking down.
Lulenski is a fascinating character - she’s aware that she’s being manipulated to some extent, and clearly uncomfortable with what she’s been asked to do, but she continues to do it anyway, most likely out of curiosity and fear of what will happen if she doesn’t. She’s an ordinary woman who’s been pulled into unordinary circumstances and trying to make something out of it without losing herself in the process. There’s an underlying warmth exemplified in her flirtatious relationship with Rjinder’s son, Roger, and it’s nice to watch it slowly reveal itself in an otherwise cold, sterile environment such as the SHELL building. I’ve read this comic several times for this character alone; if there’s one particular element of the story that truly grabbed me and sucked me in, it’s Lulenski.
Lulenski also personifies what I like best about this comic: there’s an unbelievable amount of love and effort under the surface of this story. It clearly means a lot to Porter and this affection is palpable throughout; best of all, this affection is infectious. Porter clearly has big plans for this comic and its characters and she’s done a great job of making me wonder what is going to happen. I have my own theories about where it’s going (especially regarding Rjinder, but I won’t write about it here to avoid spoilers), but I’m there for the ride leading up to those revelations.
The archives are not too heavy at the moment, and it updates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; if you have any free time whatsoever it’s a nice take on a fun concept that is well worth your time.