Writer: Barry Windsor-Smith
Art: Barry Windsor-Smith
Monsters, by Barry Windsor-Smith, is a tragedy. I just want to put it out there, from the get-go. The comic doesn’t try to hide it either, with the opening scene consisting of a man furiously punching a small boy until the boy’s mother sees it and desperately tries to rescue him. The scene is very graphic and kicks off the story in a quite consistent tone. But it is an extremely well-told story.
Monsters follows the storyline, or should I say, storylines, that revolve around the case of one Bobby Bailey. A young man living with trauma who reports for duty at a U.S. army recruitment center despite all of his social and mental difficulties. After a while, it’s clear that Bobby has no job, no home, and no one that cares for him. Noticing that, the recruiter, Sgt. McFarland sends him to Major Roth’s Prometheus project which is some sort of a Super Soldier research initiative. After a while, McFarland starts feeling guilty about what he did due to the nasty rumors he’s heard of what Major Roth does at the Prometheus project. He tries to shrug it off but he’s unable after a psychic talent he had when he was younger resurfaces. He remembers meeting Bobby’s mother and noticing the encounter as something more than coincidental. After these events, McFarland sets off to rescue Bailey by himself.
It’s a bit complicated to present a preview of this plot while attempting to not give too much away and to captivate the interest of whoever reads this review, but I can assure you that I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that passes in this comic book. This is merely the beginning of a series of events that go tragically and painfully deep into the past of Bobby Bailey and his parents. For a comic that starts kind of as a “Realistic Hulk”, Windsor-Smith writes an essay about the true nature of monsters among humanity. In a thesis close to that in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the real monsters are most of the characters with a strong exception of Bobby who is no more than a victim from start to finish.
Windsor-Smith amends the present with the flashbacks quite well when he puts Bailey in his childhood house after his escape. Due to the many mutations and tumors in his brain, Bobby starts having visions of some of his memories in that place with his parents. And as the reading goes on we understand what led to the opening scene. It’s to this beat that Barry Windsor-Smith breaks the heart of every reader. Page after page, panel after panel. Following a trail of atrocities and managing to explain even the cause of the monstrous nature of Tom Bailey, Bobby’s father.
The character of Janet Bailey, Bobby’s mother, is the key to the contrast of everything bad that’s befallen this family. Janet is, from Bobby’s point of view, a saint. Always dialoguing with her son and tending to the house while her husband’s away on World War II. Even McFarland, who saw her when he was a kid, can only remember how delightful she was. However, when the point of view shifts to that of Janet’s, we get a glimpse of her human side. We see her flaws and mistakes. A genius addition to this perspective is the panels that show Janet’s diary. The reader is shown some bits and pieces of what she started writing but ended up discarding for another thought, another piece of her mind. Most of the time these discarded portions are more toxic and their replacements, kinder.
This is how BWD makes the distinction between the monsters and the humans. Janet makes mistakes and is sinful just like any other person. But she makes the effort, every day, to be a person that refuses to let her pain leak onto other people’s lives which breaks the damaging cycle of cruelty and evil that affects her family.
I think I maybe should put on a tie to comment on Barry Windsor-Smith’s artwork. This is the first time I read something of his while old enough to actually appreciate it and all I can think about is “sensational”. The cross-hatched line style is used by the artist as a way of casting a shadow on the character’s lives. In a flashback scene before Tom goes to war, both he and Janet’s faces barely have any hatches on them. Janet’s remains that way almost through the whole book, with a few exceptions in scenes where she lets herself get angry.
The cross-hatching also adds a lot of texture to the scenes making the violence and the action scenes even more graphic with a phenomenal level of detail. This impact also makes the placid and peaceful moments especially calming.
I’ve said it and I’ll say it again: this is a sad story. A really sad one. It’d been a long time since I had to pause my reading to take a breath – maybe a quick cry – before gathering the courage to keep on reading. I make the effort to highlight, then, that this is a piece of art which displays a mastery of the comic book medium. Windsor-Smith took thirty years to be able to write and publish this comic and it shows.
Read Monsters, by Barry Windsor-Smith. it will break your heart and make you cry, but there is no other comic quite like it and it’s great to have it in your repertoire.
I've said it and I'll say it again: this is a sad story. A really sad one. It'd been a long time since I had to pause my reading to take a breath - maybe a quick cry - before gathering the courage to keep on reading. I make the effort to highlight, then, that this is a piece of art which displays a mastery of the comic book medium. Windsor-Smith took thirty years to be able to write and publish this comic and it shows.
- Exceptional artwork from a CB master!
- Fleshed out characters
- Great story through and through
- It's a bit sad, I guess?