Collected works of short stories are quite possibly my most favorite format, in both comics and fictional literature. I firmly believe that taking a concept, so rich and meaningful, like the unspoken disdain for authority in Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt or the playful cat and mouse love story of Mitsuru Adachi’s What’s Going On?, and being able to fully communicate a successful and satisfying story, is a real craft within itself. These feelings unfortunately do not apply to my most recent read, Gary Gianni’s Monstermen and Other Scary Stories. Published by Dark Horse and released earlier this month, Monstermen and Other Scary Stories is a new collection of some of Gianni's popularized horror tales, which follow the supernatural and occult issues that arise worldwide and the people who stop them from destroying our world. The “main” character is a monk named Benedict. Clad in Victorian armor and a tuxedo, not much is known about Benedict, other than that he has a vast amount of occult knowledge (possibly stemming from old age or immortality) and he is adept with weaponry. I say “main” mostly because while Benedict isn’t the focal point of these stories, he is often the key player in all of them, spouting some secret knowledge and saving the day. Benedict is joined and/or summoned by several side characters, including the film director Larry St. George, the disfigured, pathetic Crulk and the illustrious reporter Sunset Lane. While these three characters play their roles well (Larry is very interested in the occult and plays a good student to Benedict's teacher, Crulk is constantly causing problems, bowing left and right to new masters and Sunset is your standard damsel in distress, without any romantic undertone), they don’t come off as real people. They feel one sided and almost always act out the same way in every story. My main issue with this book is that I never got invested or cared about any of the characters, even when they were in mortal danger.
And while yes, I understand that to a degree this is the result of the classic horror comic genre, but it still bothered me. The stories all have a similar feel to them. Each short is well structured and the pace is action-packed but not rushed, meaning you certainly get what you paid for with each one. Yet there is still that severe disconnect. Each story feels like I need a huge backlog of information on where we are, local or regional myths, explanations of demons gone by who are on their way back. A lot of elements are introduced to the reader without any explanation and it really gives you no reason to get excited about what happens next. It felt a lot like watching two people have a conversation about that one crazy night in college, when you went to another school entirely. There is a canon to Gianni's work, but for a new collection, and one that is supposedly "collected in it's entirety" (The Monstermen Mysteries used to run as a backup to Hellboy), it feels like not enough backstory is provided to give a new reader like myself any reason to care.
The saving grace of this piece is its artwork. Beautifully paneled pages, with Gianni's classic artwork. He's also responsible for the Prince Valiant serials you used to read (or still might read) in the Sunday paper but his work here is much much better. Gianni’s got a talent for drawing not only amazing looking monsters, many of whom on sight will disgust you, but also realistic and believeable people who jump out of the page at you. Honestly, the art in this book is really what I think people will be excited about. If nothing else, it's a great book of Gianni's art to add to your collection.
TL;DR: Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories is a beautifully drawn but the choices made for this collection leve it lacking the power behind the story and characters to create a consistent feel across the board. Long-standing fans of Gianni's horror comics and art might enjoy this new collection, but otherwise this might be one to overlook.
Monstermen and Other Stories is written and illustrated by Gary Gianni. It is published by Dark Horse Comics. You can ask for it at your local comic book shop or, support Spandexless by purchasing it from our Amazon web store.
A review PDF of Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.
Samuel “Self Confidence Skeleton” “Big Ol’ Robot” Kusek has always been an advocate for the comic book format and specifically a big fan of Manga. He previously wrote for Popcultureshock’s Manga Recon, is an aspiring cartoonist himself and enjoys a good bowtie. You can find his tweets at @SamKusek.