reflection

Keeping the human in the alien invasion story, Monarch #1 portrays a realistic and tangible perspective in the backdrop of a tense sci-fi horror comic.
Writing/Plot
Pencils/Inks
Colors
Letters

Review: MONARCH #1 – The Strangers From Above

From acclaimed writer Rodney Barnes (Killadelphia, Nita Hawes Nightmare Blog) and artist Alex Lins comes a distinctly human take on an alien invasion story with Monarch #1. Featuring visual direction from the legendary Jason Shawn Alexander, colors by Luis Nct and Mar Silvestre Galotto, and lettering from Marshall Dillon, this opening issue is a gripping and unique spin on this sub-genre of sci-fi horror. With a masterful script and stellar artwork, Monarch is possibly the most exciting debut of 2023 thus far.

“Growing up in the city of Compton is tough enough as it is but as Travon has learned all too well growing up as an orphan in the city of Compton with gang members hunting you down every day is even tougher. But all of that is about to change because today is the day that aliens make first contact with Earth-and it only spells doom for life as we know it!
Death devastation and mayhem-can a single teenage boy rise to the challenge and protect his surrogate family and friends…or will he die trying?”

Writing & Plot

Rodney Barnes has always had a gift for combining excellent genre creativity with poignant social commentary, and the same goes for Monarch #1. This opening chapter follows Travon, an optimistic orphan, as he attends what starts as another normal day of school – just before the stars fall and all hell breaks loose. What makes the sci-fi/horror element of this comic so palpable is how much it feels like a sort of schoolboy daydream turned nightmarish reality. How many of us zoned out in class as kids and thought “what if aliens came down right now while we were class?” That’s the exact feeling Barned captures with this issue. What makes Barnes’s take here so interesting though is how he presents the narrative while this terror is occurring. For almost the entire comic, Barnes’ overhead narration is entirely focused on the emotional states and pasts of the two lead characters – about concerns removed from the alien invasion itself. At the core of this story is a conflict between two boys – Travon and his former friend turned wannabe gangster, Zion. As the comic plays out, most of what is discussed in the text is just about how they ended up as bitter rivals, and how much damage the system can incur on a child. Where Travon managed to find peace and love in his situation, Zion was deprived of it – and he now takes his frustration out on his former friend. Even with an apocalyptic scenario happening, this feud doesn’t go away, making for some deeply complex and memorable sequences. Barnes has crafted an intensely compelling narrative for this first chapter, and the wait for the next issue is going to be a painful one.

Art Direction

The genre blend of societal commentary/drama and apocalyptic sci-fi horror in Monarch #1 is expertly brought to life by the penciling talents of Alex Lins and the direction of Jason Shawn Alexander. Lins’ stellar character animations and Alexander’s sequencing make for a reading experience that nails the story’s tension through its perfect pacing. Every character in Monarch appears unique with their own dynamic animations for emotion, making this comic feel all the more human. The alien designs are original and unnerving, giving the book an even more nightmarish feel. Alexander’s sequential direction feels essential for this comic, since Barnes’ writing focuses heavily on the overarching narrative and internal context, leaving the visual storytelling almost entirely up to the whims of the art-team. Alexander focuses heavily on blocking intimate character moments. The comic switches from a prelude to the apocalyptic devastation to a peaceful breakfast scene, and the continuity stays intact because of how Alexander and Lins put together the sequences. Lins draws a lot of close-up shots on character faces and shocking (but not overwhelming) gore, which add to the visceral nature of the story.

The color art from Luis Nct and Mar Silvestre Galotto finishes off the reading experience with deep, heavy tones that lend weight to the comic’s atmosphere. Every image tends to lean on darker shades of their respective colors. There’s an effect in their work that makes the world seem as though it’s covered in dark ash at all times – which is especially fitting once the invasion begins. The panels will explode into blue light as alien beams fire over the residential landscape in the backdrop of human activity, casting an eerie glow over some of the interactions that still occur during the chaos. The lettering from Marshall Dillon does its job with an easy to read font that stays dynamic for character tone. There’s no SFX lettering here, as all worded focus during the action stays on the narration. Overall, Monarch is off to a phenomenal start on the visual end.

Verdict

Monarch #1 is a brilliant start to this new sci-fi thriller series. Rodney Barnes takes his socio-political approach to genre horror and applies it to this alien invasion piece to stellar effect, offering a painful human story at the center of this piece. The visual work from Alex Lins, Jason Shawn Alexander, Luis Nct, and Mar Silvestre Galotto is brilliantly animated and sharply directed, offering perfect atmosphere and pacing to pull readers into this apocalyptic scenario. Be sure to grab this new debut issue when it hits shelves on February 8th!

Justin Munday
Justin Munday
Reader and hoarder of comics. Quietly sipping coffee, reading, and watching sci-fi in Knoxville, TN.
Keeping the human in the alien invasion story, Monarch #1 portrays a realistic and tangible perspective in the backdrop of a tense sci-fi horror comic. Review: MONARCH #1 - The Strangers From Above