It’s not often you get genuinely new ideas in the world of comics, but this month has seen two startingly original books hit the shelves. First there was Jamie McKelvie’s brilliant Young Avengers #4 which included an awesome isometically designed spread that blended the worlds of design and comic art to create something truly unique. While in Masks and Mobsters #7 from MonkeyBrain Comics, Josh Williamson and Mike Henderson build their story around an original structure that is so blissfully simple, yet ingeniously clever, that as soon as you reach the pay off at the end you just want to turn back to page 1 and read it all over again to make sure you have fully appreciated what you have just been a part of.For those new to the world of Masks and Mobsters, this superhero vs. gangsters mash up has been one of the crowning jewels in the already glittering collection of titles that make up the MonkeyBrain roster. Wiliamson and Henderson’s world of monochrome masked avengers and gritty gangsters has been a succession of perfectly pitched one shots that have told different parts of a larger story, similar in a way to Sin City – but with less ink splats. However unlike Frank Miller’s overwrought masterpiece, Masks and Mobsters has a brilliantly deft touch that comes from a writer and artist who clearly love the world of pulp crime novels and golden age comics giving it delightfully uncynical feel.
It is also told from the point of view of the gangsters rather than the heroes, which gives it a much more grounded feel and so makes it feel more like Kurt Busiek’s Marvel, but with gangsters or an inverse version of Powers in it’s tone (i.e. focusing on the villains instead of the police in a superpowered world). Yet all the while it retains a smart alec, knowing sense of irony, along with the kind of wise cracking undercurrent that you would expect from a book populated with good old fashioned mobsters and mad scientists with killer robots.
So what makes issue 7 so good? Well without spoiling it, the story is told across 10 identical pages, each comprising 3 horizontal panels. In the background two mobsters argue about their involvement in the death of fallen hero Dr Daylight and in the foreground a young couple enjoy a romantic countryside date. And that’s all we can tell you without completely ruining it! When distilled down to this, it sounds like nothing special, however read it in context and appreciate it as each story plays out simultaneously with drastically different and completely unexpected results.
The basis for this is Williamson’s incredibly smart script shelters which gives the book it’s core, making this seemingly dull concept utterly compelling. He is ably backed up by Henderson’s tight black and white style that gives each and every panel a classic noir look, evoking the spirits of Eisner in every panel, but still feeling totally contemporary. We’ve seen smart work from these guys before, particularly in issue #4 Dames and the Xmas Special which riffed on a Christmas Carol, but this is a true tour de force. In a few months everyone will be trying to replicate this kind of story, just as everyone was influenced by Hawkeye’s 16 panel pages last year, so be sure to get on board now and enjoy this truly unique piece of comic book story-telling, before everyone else jumps on the band wagon and claims it for their own.
It’s easy to fill a review like this with hyperbole and faint praise, but in this case it is all 100% deserved. Both brilliantly clever and delightfully simple, this is one of the most original books you will read this year and a phenomenal addition to the already excellent mythos of the Masks and Mobsters universe.