Comics in pop culture are unavoidably tied to the idea of “heroes.” The nature of heroism, whether one can truly be a “hero,” which hero could heroically pound another hero into the dirt… Power tends to go hand-in-hand with comics “heroism,” and Juni Ba’s Monkey Meat is a series focused on a corporation so powerful, it’s made a production line out of heaven itself. So how does the comic fantasy of righteous power fare in the face of absolute corporate greed? Well, not to give too much away. But not so well.
Continuing the anthology format of the first issue, Monkey Meat #2 focuses on a young nerd named Haricot, sent to Monkey Meat Island by his parents to try and find a job. Though after a violent run-in with two monkeys in sharp suits, revenge becomes his priority. The power he needs for that vengeance comes from a chance meeting with a god trapped in a soda can. One sip and he transforms into a twisted imitation of his favorite manga hero, a character styled after, of course, the Monkey King. Branding his drive for vengeance as a form of “justice,” Haricot begins his hunt for the ones who wronged him. All bringing him into conflict with a certain groundskeeper from the first issue…
That first issue of Monkey Meat focused on island inhabitant Thaddeus Lug making a deal with his people’s conquerors, inadvertently drawing him into a life of never-ending slaughter. Here, Ba uses newcomer Haricot as a critique of people who take a “monkey see, monkey do” attitude towards their favorite area of pop culture. Haricot feels frustrated with his lot in life, but lacks perspective, causing him to frame his mundane struggles as righteous struggles against evil. Thaddeus’ return helps drive this home, as Haricot’s frustration pales in comparison to Thaddeus’ never-ending torment.
This could all be fairly heavy, and in some ways, it is. But Ba keeps a solid sense of humor running through the issue, making it closer to the tone of a Tales from the Crypt-style cautionary tale than an out-and-out tragedy. When Haricot proudly declares himself a hero, a bystander in the background shouts “Nah, man. We hate u!” A twist in the last few pages involves a monkey dressed as Darth Vader. Ba is clearly having fun with this book, and it’s hard for the reader not to get swept along.
Juni Ba has a simple, expressive style well suited to showing the emotional tantrums of a teenager. Since Haricot idolizes a manga hero, this issue takes a different approach from the first by presenting itself in mostly black, white, and grey. But the god trapped in a soda can introduces a piercing yellow to the color scheme, and further supernatural events create more bright yellows and oranges. Beyond just being a manga reference, the black and white works as a way to show Haricot’s dreary everyday before he’s introduced to the excitement his superpowers bring him.
That excitement spills over into stylized fight scenes, as Ba goes wild with speedlines and hand-lettered sound effects that spill out from the point of impact. Hands glow with power, beams of energy crash, characters shatter the earth.
But the character who ultimately holds the power in this issue doesn’t resort to any of these shows of might. Ba just gives him a suit with an unearthly fade from white-to-black and a cool smirk.
Monkey Meat #2 continues its ruminations on power by showing how the misguided power-fantasies of a child can lead to something far more sinister. Seeing how connected the first two issues of the anthology have been, I’m curious to see if the further issues continue to build on one another. Wherever it goes, I’ll be excited to see Ba draw it.