Who doesn’t love a good giant monster fight? With the popularity of franchises like GODZILLA and POWER RANGERS, I think the answer is no one. It’s a genre of simple fun and few major philosophical breakthroughs. Sure, Godzilla leaks radiation and the Power Rangers destroy dozens of (probably) inhabited buildings during their battles, but these exist primarily for effect. With that said, when Marvel released the first issue of MONSTERS UNLEASHED by Cullen Bunn, I was skeptical. While I grew up immersed in the Kaiju genre, my love stems from a childhood of exposure. POWER RANGERS was expressly important to me growing up, so any reinventions are always “great” because I first experienced the show through a child’s eyes. Modern entries in the genre, however, have to be given an adult critique, and none can stand taller than my childhood favorites.

Nostalgia helps minimize a lot of problems for me, but let’s be honest. The POWER RANGERS television series was never “good,” and Godzilla was a man in a fake rubber suit. Sorry, not sorry. Yet that doesn’t diminish the fact that I adore these franchises. MONSTERS UNLEASHED may have all of those giant monster battles that I loved as a kid, but I didn’t expect a great deal because it had none of that nostalgia-driven adoration.

I’m happy that I was wrong about MONSTERS UNLEASHED. While it faced some critical success across the internet, it didn’t have the staying power of other Marvel events. It was another crossover from a company that seems devoted to them, and it didn’t have the strong moral underpinnings that grounded stories like CIVIL WAR or ASSAULT ON PLEASANT HILL. In the grand scheme, however, I may go as far as to say that MONSTERS UNLEASHED is one of my favorite events that Marvel has done in the last decade.

As a writer, an artist, an uncle, and, most importantly, a kid at heart, I fell in love with MONSTERS UNLEASHED. Some of you out there may question whether to spend your hard-earned money on a series about superheroes fighting giant monsters, but I’m hoping that I can convince you to at least try the first issue. There are a lot of ways that this event stands out, and it found a very special place in my heart.

A Monstrous Ordeal

MONSTERS UNLEASHED
MONSTERS UNLEASHED #1 page 10. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

I don’t want to come off like I don’t love Marvel crossover events, so let me be very clear. Marvel does an incredible job putting huge populations of characters into a story while making said story coherent and interesting. Plus, who doesn’t love the X-Men, the Champions, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Avengers teaming up to face a common threat? My biggest issue with their events happens to be something that can’t easily be fixed. With so many characters in a story, the only way to give them enough development is through tie-ins.

Tie-in issues set during each ongoing series make a lot of sense. Yet, as a graduate student with loans who needs to eat on a regular basis, digging into the full breadth of events can be nearly impossible. This issue stems all the way back to CIVIL WAR, where some incredibly important events (like the introduction of Peter Parker’s Iron Spider suit) are completely overlooked in the main story. These events are relegated to tie-in issues. This, in turn, leads to a lot of stories I can’t keep up with simply because they’re overwhelming and expensive.

A Self-Contained Story

Don’t take this to mean that MONSTERS UNLEASHED doesn’t have tie-ins. Each ongoing Marvel series at the time seemingly got a specific tie-in for the five-issue run. My personal favorite was the UNCANNY INHUMANS installment that put a focus on the new Inhumans in the series. The tie-in issues for MONSTERS UNLEASHED worked where their predecessors failed. For starters, there weren’t several per series. Each ongoing series got only one tie-in issue. More importantly, those extra stories were exactly that: extra.

WATCH: ComicsVerse interviews Marvel’s Nick Spencer about the influences behind this summer’s big event, SECRET EMPIRE!

The tie-ins weren’t wholly necessary for you to understand the plot of the story. In fact, they often stepped so far outside the scope of the main plot, many being prequels to the event, that they neither stole attention from the central series or allowed themselves to be overshadowed by it. They were just interesting side tales, while the five-issue miniseries did the vast majority of the work. More importantly, the tie-in stories were completely set apart from their own titles. When the CHAMPIONS tie-in came out, it was numbered as CHAMPIONS: MONSTERS UNLEASHED #1. Bunn & company made it clear that these extra stories were standalone tales, that they fit into the grander scheme of the giant monster story arc but didn’t direct the flow of events.

Stories to be Shared

MONSTERS UNLEASHED
MONSTERS UNLEASHED #1 page 17. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

MONSTERS UNLEASHED stood out to me because it was a lot of high-energy fun, and I didn’t feel like I needed to exercise my college degree to dig into its finer points. As I said earlier, I am an uncle to two incredibly bright young men. I can go in-depth on a lot of subjects with them, and they would most likely catch at least 75% of what I said. With that, my goal is to introduce them to my passions.

Comic books are simply another storytelling mechanism, and I want my nephews to explore whatever stories interest them. Yet I can’t plop CIVIL WAR II onto the table before them and hope for the best. They may be bright, but I can’t expect them to understand the basics of quantum physics or the ramifications of precognition. Comics aren’t necessarily tailored for kids like they once were.

MONSTERS UNLEASHED is a story that I could share with my nephews. There is no true ethical debate, and most importantly, there is no worrisome visual material. Sorry, Marvel fans, but Batman is my favorite superhero. Yet, when the Joker gets his face cut off in DETECTIVE COMICS and criminals crucify people to walls in BATMAN: THE COURT OF OWLS, I can’t exactly share that with my nephews. Despite all of its intricate battle scenes, MONSTERS UNLEASHED stays mostly kid-friendly. More than that, the morals the story explores aren’t so deep that they require a college philosophy course. Also, with the many super-teams partaking in the monster butt-kicking side of the story, I can use it as an introduction for my nephews into the Marvel Universe.

A Story of Intrigue

Monsters Unleashed
MONSTERS UNLEASHED #1 page 3. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Now, when I said kid-friendly, many readers probably closed this article and went to read about V FOR VENDETTA or something. For those of you still remaining, thank you, because you will soon see that kid-friendly doesn’t mean Disney Jr. The writing done by Cullen Bunn is incredibly well-paced and fascinating. Bunn doesn’t show all of his cards at the start of the story; he plays with the reader, and he does an incredible job pacing this rather massive tale. Even in the main five issues, I never felt like any of the introduced characters got shortchanged. Every member of the Champions and the Avengers got their own lines of dialogue and each got a chance to shine in their various battles.

For the uninitiated, MONSTERS UNLEASHED follows a cosmic pandemic never before explored in Marvel comics. An alien species known as the Leviathons scour the universe for resource rich planets, all to create new nests for their queen so she may create new Leviathons. In the distant past, an unnamed Inhuman developed the ability to summon beasts of her own to do battle with the Leviathon Queen, but she died in the process. Now, a new Inhuman has surfaced with the same abilities and is tasked with helping Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in destroying the Leviathon Swarm.

A Series of Misdirections

As a student of writing, I actually found myself surprised with several of MONSTERS UNLEASHED’s story beats during my first time through it. I think the one that got me most was the reveal of the true protagonist, Kei Kawade. Throughout the opening three issues of this story, Kei is painted as an unknowing villain. Bunn distracts the reader, making us believe Kei is the one summoning the Leviathon to attack. The reader sees Kei drawing in his sketchbook in the opening pages of the first issue, while a Leviathon falls from the sky, and we’re led to assume that he’s the one summoning them.

READ: Marvel has recently revealed their upcoming crossover event, Weapons of Mutant Destruction. Take a look at our preview of the violent battle, featuring the Totally Awesome Hulk and Weapon X!

When Bunn reveals that Kei is summoning other monsters to fight back, I didn’t know what to believe anymore. I thought I had it all figured out, but Bunn erased my expectations. For a kid-friendly story, taking the narrative seriously is incredibly important. Not only does it keep the interest of the adult fans, but it treats young readers like they can handle real storytelling.

A New and Interesting Hero

Monsters Unleashed
Image Courtesy Marvel Comics.

Kei Kawade has the coolest superpower, at least in my opinion. Born in Georgia, Kei was exposed to the Terrigen Cloud released from New Attilan when he was only a child. Despite entering a Terrigenisis cocoon, his parents believed that Kei had developed no abilities. With no outward signs of a metamorphosis, they forgot the event until giant monsters destroyed his father’s place of business. On two separate occasions, in two different cities. The parents soon discovered sketches of these monsters in Kei’s notebook and realized that he had developed the ability to summon monsters by drawing them.

What do I love about Kei? It is really hard to pin down, but I think it has less to do with Kei himself and more to do with his abilities. Don’t misunderstand. Kei is a fascinating character. Many American superheroes don’t often come from a Japanese or Pacific Islander ancestry, and though Cullen Bunn doesn’t explicitly state Kei’s ancestry, Kei clearly comes from a mixed race background. Not only does Kei help diversify the superhero genre, which is always a plus, the kid is just cool. At one point in the story, he stares down Fin Fang Foom after the ancient alien dragon attempts to intimidate his summoner.

Creativity as a Solution

More than any of that, though, is that Kei’s character is an affirmation of creative expression. Even as a young kid, he can stand beside characters like Sam Wilson and Spider-Man simply because he can draw. His entire being gives credence to living creatively. So often as a creative writing and art student, I’ve been asked by (well-meaning) relatives what I plan to do with a degree in creativity. I can only answer with a shrug before I swiftly and adeptly change the subject.

Kei’s story arc means to inspire other artists and writers. He says to the world that creativity changes things. It may take time, effort, and a lot of failure, but any words on the page or lines on a sketchbook can make all the difference. I keep returning to MONSTERS UNLEASHED because it is an inspiration to me to continue digging into my creativity. To never let anyone silence my voice.

A Primer on Marvel Comic Books

Monsters Unleashed
MONSTERS UNLEASHED #1 page 25. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

MONSTERS UNLEASHED works so well because of the sheer number of characters introduced. Were I to give my nephews this story, it would act as a simultaneous introduction to the X-Men, Inhumans, Champions, and Avengers. I would need to give some context, but they would gain a baseline understanding. So many characters get ample time to shine, which is amazing with the size of the cast.

MONSTERS UNLEASHED shines brightest in its focus on the most obscure names in Marvel history. Have you heard of Giganto? Goom? Orrgo? I hadn’t, even though most scream their names during battle. MONSTERS UNLEASHED goes out of its way to reintroduce characters that have only had cameo roles in recent stories. That helps drum up a certain kind of curiosity in people. It makes readers go back into Marvel’s history and learn about their old horror imprints. Before this series, I didn’t know that the beloved Groot was inspired by a monster from TALES TO ASTONISH, the beginning, actually, for a number of these monstrous characters.

The cameos don’t stop with the monsters. Of these many obscure characters, one cannot forget Elsa Bloodstone. Elsa garnered a little popularity recently, but carrying darker themes, I didn’t foresee her falling into the mainstream. Elsa comes from a centuries-old line of monster hunters. Her character enters the spotlight here as Kei Kawade’s protector, and her appearance in the story depicts her as the ultimate warrior. She never feels out of place among the cosmically and genetically enhanced heroes, and her character is a breath of fresh air from the typical Marvel crowd.

An Empowerment of Youth

MONSTERS UNLEASHED
MONSTERS UNLEASHED #1 page 18. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

I hate to say it, but adults overrun the Marvel Universe. I understand there’s a bit of a moral issue about putting children on the front lines of any battle. There does come a certain point, though, where the young heroes do deserve some credit. The most powerful point for me, and one of the reasons I want my nephews (and all children) to read this story, is that young people are given the respect they deserve.

While the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers get a lot of page time, the Champions receive even more. We see glimpses of them on the front lines, children beside adults and not behind them. Miles Morales has more time in the spotlight than his adult counterpart, as does Ms. Marvel and Viv Vision. Most importantly of all, the two primary protagonists of this story are barely teenagers. Kei Kawade partners with Moon Girl and her prehistoric pet, Devil Dinosaur. Together, they set out to do what the adults couldn’t: end the battle with the Leviathons.

READ: Everyone’s favorite space Guardian, Star-Lord, has a long history in comics. Yet how do his many costume changes explore that history?

To adult readers, the mantra we heard on repeat as kids was: “you can’t do that.” Young kids of today are no different, of course. Even so, there are good intentions behind that saying. Yet, very rarely do I hear what kids can do. A lot of uncertainty and fear circulates the globe today, and so often young people feel that they can’t do anything.

The Strength of the Young

It is easy for young people to feel powerless in this world, but that doesn’t have to be true. While unable to stand in a voting booth, they can still actively support their opinions through petitions and open discussions with the adults in their lives. A number of organizations are looking for volunteers. That alone can be the front line against a number of society’s injustices. The kids of this world are going to inherit it all someday. It’s up to writers, parents, and educators to help them practice for this inheritance.

MONSTERS UNLEASHED matters because it focuses on young heroes. These people sacrifice themselves daily to save the world, and they do so when most of them can’t vote. I’m not expecting kids reading this story to don a set of tights and try to stop crime, but I do expect them to take this as a representation of their capabilities. We adults need to teach kids they have a voice. Even if they can only speak up through drawings or their studies, they need to try and understand the world. If they have strong opinions, they have to voice their thoughts.

This might sound like it falls into the vein of other young adult stories out there, the empowerment of youth in dire circumstances. Yet, that isn’t what defines MONSTERS UNLEASHED. RUNAWAYS is one of my favorite Marvel stories, but their version of youth empowerment sets them against adults. MONSTERS UNLEASHED empowers youths to stand beside adults, to help them through the crisis. Their voice matters in concert with the voices of humanity.

MONSTERS UNLEASHED: A Story Worth Reading

MONSTERS UNLEASHED wasn’t a groundbreaking story, and there were plenty of flaws in the grand scheme of things. Yet, even as a writer myself, I only noticed those flaws on subsequent read-throughs. MONSTERS UNLEASHED stood out as one of my favorite Marvel events in recent history. Its focus on the young and obscure heroes of the Marvel Universe gave the story a special kind of relevance.

More than that, it played on my sense of nostalgia in a way that few other superhero stories can. It leaned into its giant monster fights with beautiful art, and it actively inspired creativity through its main characters. I’m not telling you MONSTERS UNLEASHED will change your life on the first read. Do give it a chance, however, especially if you’re a parent. Or an aunt or uncle. Or even an educator. Energy, youth empowerment, and fun define this series. What more can you ask for in a comic book?

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!