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Fanboy of Fear Chris Gage Review by
Chris Gage
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Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Phil Winslade
DC Comics;
$3.50; double-sized

Full disclosure time: the writers of this comic book are friends of mine. But trust me, I wouldn't be reviewing it if I didn't think it was good on its own merits (I just wouldn't mention it at all, my usual policy when my friends turn out crap!).

MONOLITH is an interesting creature, a Vertigo-flavored comic set squarely in the mainstream DC Universe (no Batman or Superman appearances yet, but there could be in the future). The location is a rarely seen corner of the DCU: New York. That's right, most DC comics take place in fictional cities like Gotham and Metropolis, but they have a New York too, and it's a lot like ours. But there's something dark and terrifying hidden under its streets, an urban legend from generations past that just might be real, an avenging angel poised for a return after decades in the shadows.

MONOLITH's protagonist is Alice Cohen, a young woman down on her luck, living on the streets, struggling with a drug habit, and trying to avoid gangsters she's managed to piss off. Into the midst of this chaos comes the revelation that her grandmother, who she's named after, has died and left her an old building in Brooklyn "with the stipulation that she live there and never sell it." The basement is full of books, history, and a mysterious, booming voice from behind a walled-up tunnel that begs Alice to read to it. That voice isn't a hallucination brought on by withdrawal, it's The Monolith, a gigantic creature made of clay, stone, magic, the blood of a good man murdered before his time: and the burning desire to wreak vengeance on those who prey on innocents.

This first issue is double-sized, containing as much story as two regular comics, and that's a good thing, because it lets us discover the Monolith's origin in the dark days of the Depression and Prohibition. While reading her grandmother's diary, Alice finds out how the Monolith came to be, a story that has its roots in the Golem legend, bootleggers, and a time when immigrants desperately needed a protector. One gets the impression that switching back and forth in time will be a regular feature of this book, which makes this reader happy, because it means more meticulously researched New York history of the kind that made GANGS OF NEW YORK so fascinating: and, of course, more gorgeous Phil Winslade scenes of the 1930's.

British artist Winslade both pencils and inks this book, which results in moody, atmospheric visuals that are consistent and effective throughout. Especially skilled at conveying emotion through physicality, when Winslade renders a crowd of starving immigrants in a food line, each has his or her own distinct pose, expression and pain. He's equally good at monsters, and that first full-on shot of the Monolith lumbering out of the shadows toward a terrified victim is sure to hook readers into wanting to see more.

So is this horror? Well, it's definitely got roots in myth and legend. If you're looking for hack and slash ultraviolence, look elsewhere (although the Monolith's enemies do tend to come to gruesome ends). But if you enjoy a well-told tale about vengeance, the past meeting the present, and an ancient creature smashing into the modern world, you'll find a lot to like here.

The decision to set this in the DC Universe is a bold one and has to be handled delicately. Throwing the Teen Titans into these pages would probably ruin the mood, but books like SWAMP THING have certainly proven that there's room for darker-edged DC characters like Batman or the Demon in horror-tinged stories, and I can think of plenty of Golden Age characters (the Sandman, the Spectre) who would make great guest stars in flashbacks to the time when the Monolith first walked the earth.

The main problem I see for MONOLITH is the all too common one of too much story, too little space. With action in both the past and the present, and a rich backstory needing to be explored, I hope readers don't lose patience getting it in monthly installments and instead decide to "wait for the trades". Yes, it might be more satisfying to read a larger chunk of story in one sitting, but remember, if no one buys the regular book, there won't BE a trade paperback collection! If you're inclined this way, I'd suggest picking up the issues as they come out, and maybe waiting to read three or four at a time.

I give MONOLITH four Rabid Fanboys for a very promising debut.

Review copyright 2004 by E.C.McMullen Jr.

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