Zander Cannon’s Kaijumax is an easy comic to like, because it takes such joy in being what it is. A colourful, quick-witted satire of prison movie cliches, blended with an all-star cast of Toho Pictures’ greatest city-crushing monsters, this Oni title hits the ground running and doesn’t stop for breath. The afore-mentioned monsters are kept in a maximum security prison (hence the title) for their various crimes against civilization, but sometimes, as with all prisons, mistakes are made. From the first issue, this series dives head-first with giddy enthusiasm into the satire, and one can’t help being caught up in the torrent of silliness. It’s the sheer energy of the book, along with its creative genre-blending, that has earned it a nomination for a 2016 Eisner Award for Best New Series.
The series begins, as in the time-honoured tradition of prison stories, with our protagonist, Electrogor, being brought to the prison and protesting his innocence. Through his eyes, we’re introduced to the warden, the guards, and the various other monster inmates, who spend their days tipping models of buildings built into workout machines, or crushing cars on a treadmill. The society of the prison is dead-on in its parody, with religious nuts, drug dealers, gangsters (complete with gang rivalries involving shivs) and a creative solitary confinement reserved for those times in which monster-on-monster violence breaks out. (There’s no scene of a human looking up and whispering, “Let them fight,” — indeed, quite the opposite.) The issue of how puny humans could control and discipline enormous monsters is also explained in the first issue.
Also in keeping with the “prison movie” playbook, Electrogor has concerns that range beyond prison walls (namely the protection of his children) and protests his innocence. “I got grabbed when I was getting some food for my kids,” he explains. “They don’t know where I am and I need someone to check on them.” The kids themselves are under threat of being brought to the prison, which Electrogor cannot abide.
If the plot sounds series, the casualness with which the parody plays out makes up for it. Electrogor, for example, carries around green globs of U-235 on his back, which he feeds the children until their teeth come in. We also meet a character who refuses to use his “human” name and insists that all the other monsters follow his lead in taking back their traditional identities. In the main yard, gangs of monsters meet to decide who will get to destroy which city when they escape, and one gets offended when all he’s offered is Pyongyang (“If I needed empty beige boxes stepped on, I could send my idiot son to the shipping yards…”) And yes, we are treated to one heck of a monster-on-monster fight near the end of the first issue, and many more in the issues that follow.
With art tending towards the cartoonish (a perfect choice for this kind of story), Kaijumax reminds us that comics, besides being a serious art form, can also been a lot of fun. It’s good to have the diversity recognized at this year’s Eisners.