... forcefully told and thoroughly affecting...the ambitious Monsters uses time lapses to great effect ... It feels a well trodden set-up, part Captain America, part Frankenstein’s monster ... A lesser writer might crank up the cliches another notch, and focus on the violence and drama of a super-soldier on the loose in 60s America. Windsor-Smith does give us shootouts, stakeouts and chases, but Monsters is more interested in turning back the clock. It’s a book about how we got here; a story about a lost boy, his put-upon mother and his brutal, traumatised father, about fraught dinners and PTSD, and about how it takes a monster to make one. And its telling is often brilliant ... Monsters hums with suppressed violence and regret, and Windsor-Smith renders both with real power. His command of pose and gesture...brings his cast to life. Some images stay with you ... a family drama of kindness, cruelty and redemption takes centre stage, offering the chance for a broken man to shed his skin, and begin again.
Windsor-Smith conveys gruesome body horror and tender family scenes, nightmarish doom and quiet moments of connection ... things get really twisted ... Despite the ample page size, the compositions start off claustrophobic: all dark walls and densely crosshatched faces, the panels like prison cells. Marinated in chemicals, Bobby turns mute, massive and gruesome to behold, like a decaying Hulk. Perversely, what seems poised to be a story of a tortured soul’s revenge instead turns inward ... The excerpts from Janet’s diary form the emotional core of the book. Windsor-Smith’s overheated prose style is subtler and more convincing here, as he writes in the voice of a woman widowed by the war in spirit if not fact ... Windsor-Smith feverishly traces the roots of a single violent act backward and forward in time, across generations and nations and the border of life and death itself.
Windsor-Smith is known for his meticulous inking, and his cross-hatching gives Monsters’ world and characters remarkable dimension. His inks are mostly very tight and specific, but in the opening sequence, the lines have a wildness that contributes to the chaos ... As impressive as Windsor-Smith’s cross-hatching is, it’s equally powerful when he minimizes the linework ... The superhero influence is strongest at the start of Monsters, and Elias’ mission to rescue Bobby unfolds in an exhilarating car chase that leads to a devastating shootout. The dramatic sound effects punctuate key moments in the action, and the shootout is a showcase of how lettering impacts storytelling, with line weight, letter shape, and balloon placement working together to create a feeling of total mayhem ... Monsters has breakneck action and lots of atmospheric horror, but the majority of the book is domestic and workplace situations, highlighting Windsor-Smith’s skill with character acting. Emotional beats are exceptionally clear, and he pays close attention to the different ways people experience pain, internalize it, and release it. It brings vitality to these characters and conversations, and by withholding information, the script creates a sense of intrigue that keeps the momentum moving forward when there isn’t much in the way of spectacle.
The mood that Windsor-Smith summons in Monsters is simply more intense, more impactful...than all but a few other comics are capable of ... this material is elevated above the mass of genre comics by that realism, and its creator's formidable skill. Monsters feels like nothing so much as a comics version of Stephen King at the height of his prime—obsessed with both the vivid mundanity of midcentury suburban life and world-shaking powers that lie beyond the pale, fascinated by minor characters and protagonists alike, prone to lengthy anecdotes that seem disconnected from any forward narrative momentum until you realize they've just provided a big jolt of it. Windsor-Smith's art, full of little subtleties, meticulous about gesture and facial expression, wrapped in webs of densely crosshatched light and shade, is a perfect match for his story ... Windsor-Smith's writing is merciless, forcing readers to watch the slow unraveling of scenes whose tragic endings have already been well established, filling up densely paneled pages with back and forth dialogue exchanges that hurt the characters and make the readers feel it ... It's the kind of book that gets better with each rereading—the sci-fi elements are just extraneous enough, and the stark reality of the way the characters talk and move and hurt each other is only more affecting when you know what's coming.
... a massive feat of a graphic novel ... a disturbing tour de force of a book, as rich as any novel, moving and poetic in a way that ultimately asks far more questions than it answers, which is the mark of great fiction, at least as far as I’m concerned. Monsters is a book that lays out its people and plot in compelling fashion, subtly forcing readers to contemplate ugly questions about their own role in the world, an activity would most certainly otherwise avoid ... Monsters feels like a masterpiece for an increasingly insular audience (an audience that I am very much apart of), one that will rank as an all-time favorite for certain veteran readers, even if its wider spiderweb of impact never spreads too far. It is, essentially, a lost masterpiece that after being rumored and whispered about for so long, we finally have a chance to read and experience. And we should count ourselves very lucky for it.
... a crowning narratival and artistic achievement by one of American comics’ greatest innovators ... a masterpiece ... a deeply engrossing tale ... The plot is intricate and hops around in time ... It is steeped in conventional genre motifs and techniques ... Somehow Windsor-Smith manages to weave all these familiar strands together into an immensely satisfying and exciting and deeply emotional whole. The keys are the storytelling and the art. The style is realism, but the accomplished and laborious technique is hardly matched in contemporary comics ... This is a book that demands and rewards your attention to every panel.
This family portrait intercuts to Bobby’s promethean mutation, which Windsor-Smith leaves mostly in shadow, making the rare glimpses all the more chilling, while defusing them with the personnel’s Pythonesque banter ... over time he unveils a tender, unconsummated romance between Janet and the book’s other decent man, Jack Powell, a local police officer working undercover for the army. Throughout, Windsor-Smith captures subtle expressions and body language in controlled storms of expressive pen-and-ink lines, crafting nuanced black-and-white tones akin to engravings or Old Master drawings. This intensity is reinforced by the author’s avoidance of a distancing narrator or any captions except to announce locations and dates. His focus is on naturalistic dialogue that gives the characters their own distinct voices ... Bobby may have been made into a monster, but he remains human and humane.
... he thickens out the potboiler aspects of Monsters with heartbreaking characterizations and closely-observed scenes full of subtle interactions. Much of Monsters is a deliberate inversion of expectations. The first several dozen pages of hard-hitting, monster-driven action and spy-story intrigue give way to a human story ... The artwork in the book is a highly evolved variant of Windsor-Smith’s famous style, full of incredibly detailed linework and impeccable technique. It’s no wonder it took decades to complete. The density of the black and white drawings, the deliberate pacing (some conversational scenes run to 10 or more pages) and the complexity of the story would have made this a slow read at 150 pages. At over 350, it is nearly overwhelming, requiring a War and Peace-like commitment to savor every moment of it. It’s worth it. In an era of fast-food popular culture, where even ambitious literary graphic novels are rushed out the door to feed an insatiable market, Monsters is a 10-course meal full of exotic dishes and layered flavors: some cheesy and rich, others balanced with sweetness or acid.
Each character’s story line is given the time, depth, and space to make them feel alive in every way. The book’s pen and ink artwork is exquisite, from its delicate shading to the way word balloons lead the eye up, down, and all around the page, maintaining a mesmerizing flow from one panel to the next. Despite plenty of grand, dramatic tension, some of the book’s most memorable moments come via subtle expressions of family dynamics around a dinner table, through distinctive speech patterns, dialogue, and lettering. Also revealing and affecting are the handwritten letters of Bobby’s mother, which show the measure of her desperation about her husband’s change in personality after his duties during and after World War II ... a graphic narrative masterpiece and a haunting examination of the lingering effects of evil.
Themes of life on the home front and suffering in the aftermath of war play large roles in the story, with many recurring characters and a complex story line that jumps between the 1960s and the 1940s. The illustrations are in black and white and finely detailed, with shadows enhancing an ominous tone, and readers of political and supernatural thrillers, sf, and historical fiction with a vein of forbidden love will all enjoy this book. The name of the project, Prometheus, is fitting and may stir thoughts of Frankenstein, so pass this along to those who sympathize most with the monster.
Windsor-Smith aims to make grand statements on everything from child abuse to veterans’ issues to the workings of fate, but despite impressive scope, the volume has trouble pulling them together into a cohesive story. It’s a mess to untangle—gross but gorgeous.