Monarch #1 is an impressive debut that builds a living, dangerous world with complex characters
I’m always wary of stories that feature kids as the main characters. I immediately think it’s going to be another coming-of-age story or a childhood trauma yarn that’ll follow the same old story beats as countless other works that go down similar routes. Not that they’re bad. They’re Just a bit overused, which often makes them predictable. Rodney Barnes and Alex Lins break away from this in their new series Monarch, openly resisting what’s been done before to explore ideas that might hit harder but that must be faced regardless.
Monarch follows Travon, an orphan living in Compton. His foster home seems like a good place and he’s surrounded by people that look out for him, an important factor considering other foster kids who’ve perhaps not been as lucky as him are out to violently bully him for having it marginally better than others.
As if things weren’t hard enough for Travon, aliens descend from the skies thirsty for blood and mayhem, looking like monsters that were exclusively bred to slaughter and maim indiscriminately in the worlds they’ve targeted for invasion. Travon must fight for his life and that of his surrogate family and friends, even if it requires sacrificing things that can’t ever be recovered.
Monarch sets the tone early with its relentless approach to violence. Lins captures both bully violence and alien aggression as things weighed by consequence, making them feel meaningful and necessary to the story rather than gratuitous. Travon’s living environment feels dangerous as a result, a symptom of the status quo, and it helps to build compelling characters that readers can worry about and fear for.
Barnes’ script leans on rawness to build its characters. Travon isn’t a Disneyfied version of a foster child. He’s a boy that is always aware of the hand he’s been dealt so he can never lose focus of the things that are important to him, like the people that have become family in the absence of blood relatives. Barnes makes it a point to present Travon as a survivor, a condition that might end up making him better suited than most to face down a scenario filled with vicious aliens given the things he’s had to live through at such an early age.
It’s in this arrangement that Barnes and Lins’ Monarch sets itself apart from other stories featuring coming-of-age themes and YA-like sensibilities. Nothing here is played safe or to keep readers in their comfort zones. Quite the opposite. Travon and his friends are all at risk of becoming just few more casualties of the invasion at any time. The prospect of that generates an overwhelming sense of tension that makes for compulsive reading.
Fans of the 2011 sci-fi horror film Attack the Block will find a similar appreciation for roughness in the storytelling process that makes Monarch such a hard-hitting experience. In it, a group of kids from South London (an historically underprivileged area) have to fight off malicious aliens and defend their home, dysfunctional and difficult though that place may be. The movie’s strengths lie in turning commonly overlooked characters (in this case, rowdy kids that fall into a life of crime given their circumstances) into protagonists that never shed their complexities. Monarch frames its story and its characters in a similar way, letting the harsh realities of life come along for the ride without feeling the need to soften them to make audiences more comfortable. You just have to embrace the conditions of Travon’s existence and feel them along with him.
Monarch #1 is an impressive debut that builds a living, dangerous world with complex characters that already carry a considerable amount of personal history with them. It’s impossible not to root for Travon and you will keep turning the pages with a certain reluctance for fear of what might happen to him throughout. But turn them you shall, and you won’t want to stop. Monarch is just that good.
Script: Rodney Barnes Art: Alex Lins Colors: Luis NCT
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy and check out Barnes’ Killadelphia if you haven’t already.
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review