Friday, July 27, 2012

Recommended Reading for 7/27: The Monolith

I apologize of this week's recommended reading is a little shorter and more vague than usual, but a month in I'm still digging out of the move, so access to the full compliment of my collection isn't quite there, and I'm doing this from memory. I just really wanted to talk about Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's The Monolith, and I figured I could do it some degree of justice even if I'm just using what I remember.

As someone of Jewish descent who has always been fascinated by myth and folklore, one of the stories that spoke to me was the story of Rabbi Loew and the Golem of Prague, the mythic defender of the Jewish people. In 2004, when I saw that new series was starting from DC that was going to feature a golem as the hero, I was fascinated, and decided to give the series, The Monolith, a shot. It turned out be a great series, but as often happens with great series featuring new characters, it didn't last too long.

The Monolith is was a strong character driven series. Besides the Monolith, the story features two young women, Alice and Tilt, who have become responsible for the Monolith. Alice's grandmother was the first guardian of the Monolith, and it with her death that the responsibility passes to Alice. One of the interesting things about the series is that Alice and Tilt start out without any heroic aspirations. Alice and Tilt, are both drug addicts and prostitutes, living on the fringe of society, and they want little to do with their new stony friend. But over the course of the twelve issues, they both grow to understand how important what they now have to do is, and they kick their habits and work to become part of the community as a whole. They are both tough, well rounded characters, and having the two real leads of the series be women is something that isn't seen a lot in superhero comics, another indication of how unusual this title was. This character growth is one of the great parts of new superhero comics: the characters can change more than the more established heroes.

The stories that ran through the twelve issues were very street level, which fits well with the original myth of the golem as protector of the Prague ghetto. Here, though, the Monolith protects Brooklyn, and he seems connected with the borough, knowing when a crime has taken place and feeling compelled to make it right. While he does cross paths with one supercriminal along the way, he mostly fights drug dealers, mobsters, and the like, which is interesting when dealing with a hero who isn't a "normal" human. But making these threats non-superhuman gives Alice and Tilt more involvement in the stories. Brooklyn is a very specific neighborhood, with a lot of character, and the series fits well with that, and the art is referenced well to look like Brooklyn, versus a generic city.

While most of the action does take place in the present, there are a series of flashbacks to Brooklyn in the 1930s, that feature Alice's grandmother, also named Alice, and the creation and adventures of the Monolith. These stories are also great, with another cast of well realized characters. Alice lives in a boarding house with Rabbi Rava and Han, who help her in creating the Monolith to stop the mobsters who killed the man she loved. I love a good period piece, and Palmiotti and Grey do a good job of setting a similar tone for these flashbacks, but keeping the characters distinct. There's a mirror to what is happening in the present, and the stories do tie together, but it's not like you're just reading the same story two times with slightly different casts.

The principal artist on the series was Phil Winslade, one of comics most underrated artists. Winslade's style is distinct, with his characters and panels having a sense of motion that a lot of others don't capture. I love artists whose characters are very expressive in body language and especially face, and Winslade is one of these. The look he gives Alice and Tilt, both in their clothing and their faces, helps build them a very real characters. Other artists do step in over the course of the series, Peter Snejbjerg of Starman fame and Tomm Coker, and both do good work, it's Winslade's version of these characters that will resonate with you.

After The Monolith series ended, Palmitotti and Gray used him in a couple other series they were working on, Hawkman and The Battle for Bludhaven, but after that he faded away into obscurity. But since it has lapsed out of print, it seems the original deal allowed the rights for the characters most of the issues to revert back to its creators (this is something I've seen happen with Vertigo titles before, but can only think of one other book that was published by DC proper, Peter David's Fallen Angel, and that was really removed from the DC Universe, even if it was part of the main publishing imprint). What this means, is that all of you who didn't get a chance to read The Monolith the first time have a new chance!

This past Wednesday, a hardcover volume was released by Image collecting the first four issues of The Monolith. A second volume collecting issues collecting the rest of the series that can be reprinted is forthcoming. I would suggest picking these up to support the new incarnation of the series, however, the fact that Batman appears in issues 6-8 means that a full reprint is not in the cards. It would be worth it for you to track down those middle issues at a convention, just so you can get the full picture of this great series. And hopefully, if the interest is there as it should be, we might get some new Monolith stories from Image in the near future. I can hope, anyway.

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