cover image Monsters


Barry Windsor-Smith. Fantagraphics, $39.99 (380p) ISBN 978-1-68396-415-5

Eisner Hall of Famer Windsor-Smith (the Conan the Barbarian series) began this obsessive epic in 1984 as a concept for a Hulk comic; over the next three and a half decades, the 22-page story mutated into an ambitious behemoth packed to the gills with graphic violence and body horror. Feckless young Bobby Bailey is recruited for the Prometheus Project, a secret military supersoldier program. He becomes an enormous, malformed monster (“He can crush a tank with one goddamned hand!”), then escapes and is pursued across the country. Much of the narrative focuses on two of Bobby’s allies: Sgt. Elias McFarland, haunted by guilt and psychic visions, and officer Jack Powell, who knows about Bobby’s traumatic childhood with an abusive father with PTSD. The story keeps moving back in time, uncovering layers of trauma, constantly changing tone, and flying off on unpredictable tangents that include ghosts, psychic projection, Nazi mad scientists, and cosmic coincidences linking the characters’ fates. Fans will pick up the book for Windsor-Smith’s ornamental artwork, which, though deeply disturbing and frequently beautiful, sometimes shows the unevenness of work executed over a 35-year period. 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. [em](Jan.) [/em]