In this project 35 years in the making by comics legend Barry Windsor-Smith, it is the year 1964, and Bobby Bailey doesn't realize he is about to fulfill his tragic destiny when he walks into a U.S. Army recruitment office to join up. Part family drama, part political thriller, part metaphysical journey, Monsters offers a portrait of individuals struggling to reclaim their lives and an epic political odyssey across two generations of American history.
... 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.