Garth Ennis revives the Phantom Eagle as a plot device in Land-of-the-Lost-alike Where Monsters Dwell. -Ed.
Where Monsters Dwell begins easily enough as we watch a loving social exchange between a ruggedly handsome fellow of Caucasian heritage and a native princess. What begins as well-meaning human moment quickly slides sideways into full bastardism, as we are introduced to Karl Kaufman, roguish fighter pilot and philanderer.
Kaufman’s timely escape from heart-of-darkness domestics lands him at a service strip where we are entreated to further displays of questionable morality. Kaufman takes on a passenger to pay for services already render to his aeroplane, Clementine Franklin-Cox, or “Clemmie” to pleasant company. Their exchange here is brief, as yet another instance of Kaufman’s poor judgement forces an early departure, with Clemmie along for the ride, hoping to be delivered eventually to Shanghai to see her husband.
The weather takes a turn for the worse as the two fly on, with nature itself seeming to take a sadistic focus on depriving the plane and passengers of their altitude. When the storm finally breaks, the two would-be adventurers find themselves blown far off course, meeting the “natural inhabitants” of the land in an introduction that begins to show the true natures of both Karl and Clemmie, and ultimately leaves them earthbound.
Without spoiling further plot points, let me take a moment to point out a few things to take from this series; things that might warrant consideration prior to running out and picking up this title.
- Kaufman is immediately and staggeringly unlikable. Any panel in which he speaks drips with period-appropriate fratboy hubris, an image that cracks almost immediately under even the slightest pressure. This quality within the series takes on shades of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in so much as you continue reading not for the purpose of seeing the character succeed, but rather to watch bad things happen to them as they continue to engage in questionable decision-making. The short karma circle cycles fast and hard here, usually to Kaufman’s detriment.
- Clementine, by comparison, is able to secure the role of confident and competent leader in crisis, a role often reserved for men. This semi-swap of gender roles is rather refreshing once you get used to the idea. As this persona emerges during their misadventure, we learn that Clementine will be the knowledgeable and level-headed survivor, while Kaufman is often reduced to little more than a gibbering and panic-stricken nuisance.
- Where Monsters Dwell does feature a smattering of different “unstuck from time” elements, as showcased by the prehistoric predators that grace many of its covers. There are other less-fatal instances of this as well, and the entire setting comes together in such a way that continues to prop up the underlying theme of destroying gender roles. My beloved dinosaurs (who are absolutely at fault for making me read this title) are little more than plot devices and window dressing, a fact that makes me a bit sad, even with how appropriately they function as plot devices.
- The art is well done, and fits the tone of the story. Readers can watch Kaufman’s outward appearance change to depict the nature of his decisions: in the same issue, he can be seen as both GQ cover ready and slovenly homewrecker in different frames. I applaud Russ Braun’s ability to add some subtext to the statements made by the story.
With issue #3 hitting shelves 7/15, the jury is still out on how this series will end. Where Monsters Dwell is an interesting title for this line, by my reckoning at least, in that it likely could be referential to Kaufman, rather than the monstrous creatures he encounters. His moral compass doesn’t even begin to exist in any measurable fashion until issue 3, and the cliched reason for its appearance does little to endear Kaufman to the user, given his history. While I would be semi-satisfied with a character redemption ending, in which Kaufman learns the errors of his ways and exits his adventure with a better respect for the fairer sex (and really, humanity in general), I find myself equally pining for a resolution in which the end frame shows Kaufman as the primary ingredient building block of dino dung heap. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the story; rather, I’ve enjoyed it in a different fashion than I expected to. With issues 4 and 5 yet to come, there is still time for change. We’ll see what Ennis and Braun do with the panels they have left.