Writer Ed Brubaker, artist and letterer Sean Phillips, and colorist Jacob Phillips’ Reckless series has been brilliant since book one. But Image Comics’ Destroy All Monsters is undoubtedly their best installment yet. This creative team joyfully dives back into this world they’ve created. And this time, they dive deep into the rich dynamic between the titular Ethan Reckless and his business partner, Anna.
It’s tempting to compare Brubaker’s script to other staples in the noir genre. Destroy All Monsters is reminiscent of some of the greatest moments from James Bond. It’s as heart wrenching as Casablanca, as layered as The Maltese Falcon. But Destroy All Monsters is something else. Ethan Reckless radiates a darker, more dangerous presence than Sam Spade. He’s capable of more brutal things than Bond. When the story is being steered by his callous and scarred hands, it feels as though anything could happen.
And then there’s Anna. She’s more of a delight than any you’ll find in those other noir flicks. We’ve seen Anna pop up in the first two Reckless books, but Destroy All Monsters puts her center stage. Brubaker counterbalances Ethan’s deep-seated sadness with Anna’s boundless optimism. She might see the world as a dark place, but she also seems to have confidence that she and Ethan can change that. It’s impossible not to smile when reading her pages. Brubaker shows us the beauty of both of these characters, by juxtaposing them against one another.
It feels as though Sean Phillips’ art has never been so expressive. He leans into every story beat, brilliantly driving it home. When a cop gives Ethan a veiled threat, he makes himself clear with a sinister smile, like something right out of a horror movie. In another context, these moments might feel melodramatic. But Destroy All Monsters is also full of plenty of stoic characters. Ethan’s face rarely changes much. He has that same look of concentration in nearly every panel. Other characters stay guarded and closed off. But characters like Anna and even our villain, Gerard Runyan, give the book plenty of emotion.
In one scene, Phillips shows Anna and Ethan on a phone call. On one end, we see Ethan. Shadows cover his face. He doesn’t smile or change his expression with each beat of the conversation. On the other end, we have Anna. Her face is a rollercoaster of emotions. She smiles, she frowns, she furrows her brow, she widens her eyes in shock. It’s in this single, simple page that Phillips shows us why these two are so good for each other. And it’s downright comic book magic.
Jacob Phillips’ coloring is always a highlight to this series. The mornings in Destroy All Monsters aren’t grey or simply bright. They’re a dazzling yellow. The nights are a sharp blue. Every page is bursting with color. But the most noticeable color that Phillips uses is pink. Pink is Anna’s color. It’s the color of her hair and the color of her car. We see scenes that she’s in often have whole panels colored in different shades of pink. She has a presence that bleeds past her inked outline.
Ethan often shows up in panels that are blue. His loneliness is evident on the page. But it’s actually clearest when he’s thinking of the drive between his place and Anna’s new apartment. He pictures the commute, shown on the page as an image of the 405. It’s all in pink. We can see how much Ethan cares about his friend in this moment. Anna colors how Ethan sees the world and, without her, everything is blue.
We learn a lot about Ethan just by seeing the way that he thinks. The caption boxes in Destroy All Monsters come from Ethan’s perspective. They line up on the page along straight edges. They feel calculated and calm. Even when shit hits the fan, the caption boxes act as an out of body voice that calmly comments on the scene that’s unfolding. Sean Phillips has some fun with it though. At times, the captions overlap the tops of word balloons, setting up the line that’s being said.
Phillips often shows small font on big word balloons. You can hear the characters whispering things to themselves, under their breath. Or, he makes the font big, bold, and italicized. The edges of the balloon become jagged, showing us the panic that’s rising in the speaker’s throat. Phillips uses a set of simple but deeply effective tools. His lettering says a lot in very subtle ways. You read lines in your head just like he intended you to, without even realizing anything was different.
Destroy All Monsters is dangerous and beautiful. It’s everything you want from a noir comic. Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Jacob Phillips continue to make us fall in love with the world of Reckless. Pick up your copy of Destroy All Monsters, out from Image Comics October 20th, at a comic shop near you!