I am shamed to admit that I had not heard of Gary Gianni. Yep, that Gary Gianni, writer and artist of, among other works, a graphic novel of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, the newspaper strip Prince Valiant, and the Eisner Award-winning Batman story, “Heroes.” The Gary Gianni, in fact, who after many years could tempt me back to comics, were he to have created them all and I in possession of a spare thousand pounds a month.
Gosh, you say. Mike likes something? Yes, reader, he does. He likes a lot. It’s no exaggeration to say he cannot remember the last time he became so excited about turning a page of a graphic novel, to see what strangeness would be proferred in pen-and-ink on its other side. Gianni is a genius with splashes and his unique style delivers images that are not only deep and detailed but delirious and dream-like – landscapes that are a few steps askew from our own and that at one and the same time you want to step into yet shy quickly away. Fighting in their bad corner there’s a glorious cast of monsters such as Jib-Bics and Puttyfoons – the hell-dragging minions of Lord Gooseflesh – and in the good, the ancient order of Corpus Monstrum – the Monstermen – these days a somewhat loose alliance of movie mogul Larry St George, reporter Sunset Lane, ‘Mr Fixit’ Hodgson and the one survivor of the original order, Benedictus. The armour-helmeted Benedict, as he’s now known, goes about his business with an ages-old doggedness that is no better exemplified than in the story “The Skull And The Snowman”, when he’s asked about his current destination of the Lamasery of Tsin-Tsin Dagh, the fabled City Of The Nine Hundred And Ninety-Nine Monks.
“Ever seen it?”
“Once. When a thousand monks lived there.”
It’s brilliant stuff, evocative and underplayed, that leaves you wanting more. If it seems vaguely familiar that’s because its cast, dynamics and mood make it VERY close in DNA to Gordon Rennie’s Caballistics, Inc. But it is far, far better than that. If you’ll forgive the indulgence, far, far better than my own Caballistics, Inc novels, in turn described by some as better than Rennie’s strip. Interestingly, Caballistics, Inc debuted a full six years after Monstermen – I wonder whether Gordon read it?
I have only two complaints. One, that Monstermen was only ever the back-up strip in Dark Horse’s Hellboy comic, and two, that it was relatively short-lived. The totality of its existence is the five four-part-or-so stories gathered in this collection, a quality if not quantity of content that would make for a slim volume but for the inclusion of a number of classic horror stories by such genre masters as William Hope Hodgson, Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. These are prose but illustrated by Gianni. Still – despite the brevity – you’re in for some clever tricks and an overall treat. I suggest you get out there and buy it, or the Mustacchio Demoniac will come swoop in your face. Mike Wild