Zander Cannon (Writer & Artist)
July 12, 2017
An advanced review copy was provided by the publisher
I picked up the first trade of Zander Cannon’s Kaijumax series on a quiet afternoon when I was working in London’s Orbital Comics. The book quickly became a firm favourite of mine and the second miniseries was one of the rare books that I read in single issues. I’ve been awaiting the newest arc of this uniquely sweet and wonderfully odd book for what feels like forever. For those of you who have yet to discover the curiously cute yet melancholy world of Kaijumax, the setup is a pretty wild one. In a near future society, Kaiju—the large monsters that inhabit Japanese monster movies like Godzilla and Mothra—and humans live side by side. Well, almost side by side, because most Kaiju have been captured and are imprisoned on a high security prison island called Kaijumax where the guards have Ultraman-esque powers.
The universe that Zander Cannon has built in Kaijumax is a sprawling one which manages to focus on an engaging, character-driven narrative. Season 3 #1 is no different, beginning after the end of a strong second arc which far surpassed the original six issues. This first issue is a slow burn exercise in how to craft an engaging sequential story.
Season 3 focuses on The Creature from Devil’s Creek, a very sad giant goat monster who’s become a fan favourite due to his gloomy presence and sombre attachment to the mind controlling Mountain, a sentient mountain who is another one of the imprisoned Kaiju. It’s a suitably creepy expanded introduction to what seems to be a far more horror focused arc of Cannon’s monster island masterpiece.
Though Zander Cannon’s art is both cute and colourful, this is in no way an all ages book, often indulging in deep and thoughtful moments reflecting the brutal nature of the prison industrial complex and structural oppression. With the horrific murder on the opening pages of this issue, Cannon introduces a gore element that’s not wholly new to the book but hints that the occult background of The Creature from Devil’s Creek’s may heavily impact the tone and look of this season’s story. Cannon’s art style brings a sweetness to everything—even sacrificial murder—and it’s in that kind of sharp juxtaposition between heavy themes and buoyant visuals where Kaijumax often finds its strength, lulling you into a world that looks cute, safe, and welcoming but often catches you unaware with its emotional strength.
We find The Creature from Devil’s Creek abandoned and alone on the prison planet since his friend and main protagonist of the earlier books, Electrogor, escaped in an attempt to reunite with his children. The Creature is still a member of Cryptid Gang, driven by his higher ups to convince his mother to bring drugs into the prison. This leads to one of the darkest moments of this issue, and is a great example of Cannon’s talent in subverting expectations of overused tropes. When we’re introduced to Creature’s mother, she’s dressed in a nun’s habit, a tiny frail human enclosed in a glass box, peering up to her goliath of a son as she lectures him on self pity and inner strength. This intimate and emotional moment showcases one of the most integral parts of Kaijumax‘s success: the space that Cannon gives his monsters to be “human” to feel, to love, and to be scared.
And it’s in that moment when you’re focused on this emotional nuance that Kaijumax flips the script again, with a page turn reveal that’s not only a playful reference to Creature’s origins in American folklore but also nicely turns your expectation on its head whilst adding more layers to the occult leanings of this first issue.
Much of Kaijumax’s charm lies in the visual universe that Zander Cannon has crafted, from the expressive individual character designs to his masterful use of colour, something that this issue showcases on every page. As I read more comics and try to get my words around the language of criticism, the more I realise that one of my favourite things is a book that utilises colouring as a part of the narrative, and once again Kaijumax S3 #1 does that with great skill.
Pages display vibrant palettes that push the narrative forward and immerse the reader, like the blues and purples of the opening nighttime scene. This is deftly incorporated among simple yet impactful paneling that Cannon uses to control the pace of his sprawling narrative, creating important tonal differences between moments. There’s power in a nine-panel page focused on the every pained expression of one character, followed by a turn that reveals a half-page panel filled with stoic and imposing monsters.
Cannon employs more than just intelligent paneling to allow scenes to flow at different speeds. His use of dialogue also works to control the speed of the book, using varying speech techniques to give scenes their own unique flow. Zander is sure of the story that he’s telling, so much so that the character of the Mountain speaks only in symbols, making it non-verbal and highly expressive. The impact of this is that the art has no choice but to be far more emotive and characters must respond differently than they might in a conversation with each other.
This issue felt like a slight departure from the Kaijumax I’ve known before, where each issue felt like an easy place to dive into the adventure. Almost like a classic cinematic serial, this feels like the first chapter of a much larger and compelling narrative, suggesting a conscious decision to break from the episodic tone of the first two volumes and do something much more reliant upon the serialized format.
Kaijumax is a sweet, moving and beautifully put together comic that utilizes all the best parts of sequential storytelling to create something that feels really quite special.