Writer: Doselle Young
Artists: John McCrea (p), Garry Leach (i)
Publisher: DC Wildstorm
I find the sophistication of Monarchy to be brilliant and frequently underestimated. Monarchy #4, entitled "Vox Populi" or "The Voice of the People", demonstrates that the world's greatest problems cannot be beaten into submission. Subtlety and thought will be needed to combat their world's illnesses.
It is impossible to review this title without some understanding of its origins, specifically, that Monarchy springs from its predecessor, The Authority. The Authority is a team of superheroes headquartered in a realm called "The Bleed". They battle the most extreme of antagonists resulting in epic conflicts that leave cities devastated. That being understood, Monarchy asserts itself as part of the same Wildstorm universe as The Authority but vastly different in its scope and intention.
In this issue, Jackson King visits his ex boss, Hishino, in the hospital and telepathically converses with him. Professor Q and Christine empower a hundred year old century baby (a la Elijah Snow and Jenny Sparks) named Addie Vochs whose abilities had been suppressed at birth when Fevermen destroyed her family. The Fevermen turn out to be "nasty thought constructs" that resist Q's impressive black hole and are only defeated after Addie's "voice of the people" speaks for the first time.
Meanwhile, Union and Farmer discuss Polder Realms which are unique pockets of reality "maintained by faith and force of will". Farmer tells Union that Oz, a renowned Polder Realm, no longer exists. Towards the end of the issue, King explains to Hishino that "post-humanity" (roughly, superpowered individuals) form a kind of planetary antibody not unlike white blood cells. When those blood cells start fighting each other indiscriminately, a cancer births. This cancer in the Bleed is destroying realities within it including ours.
The cancer manifests in various ways revealing the extent of the disease. The Authority are shown leveling a city in their efforts to save it. Skyscrapers are ripped apart in the battle that can only have a body count in the tens of thousands! Just before leaving Hishino, King tells him, "I'm going to undream the world" which points the series towards wiping clean the small minded world that is going to hell just as a surgeon might anesthetize a patient before removing a tumor.
Worst of all, the cancer appears in the small mindedness of people like security guards; people that build our day-in-and-day-out world; people not unlike ourselves. The two security guards minding Hishino share a tasteless (but funny) joke. The real horror of this book is not that muscle bound goons are the cause of the state of our world, but that perhaps the average person is, that we are. Professor Q asks, "where do bad things come from?". With the transitional cue, "and the beat goes on", we hear the only thing the guards say in this issue and it is a cruel joke. The unmistakable implication is that maybe bad things come from potentially good men not having the will to embrace, understand or even empathize with their world. The cancer in the Bleed stems from how people approach their world.
In contrast to the cancer we meet Addie Vochs who channels the voice of the people. She speaks on behalf of the "moon launch and cool jazz, [...] Nat King Cole and Hiroshima." In other words, she speaks on behalf of the quiet people that have built and paid for this world's achievements with a lifetime of effort or their very lives. It seems to be the will of these people that has the best chance of stemming this cancer that destroys their (our?) world.
Through Farmer and Union, we learn that this cancer is likewise destroying mankind's ideal realms as well as his physical reality. I especially like that the Monarchy's struggle is going beyond the Wildtorm universe. The Monarchy, it would seem, will be taking on all myths, Oz and Sun Gods landing in Kansas included.
Bringing home these intricate discussions of how choices create universes, how faith creates mythic realms and the power of human achievements is the joke shared by the guards. This joke ("What do you tell a woman with 2 black eyes? Nothing, you told her twice already.") is a bit of a challenge to the readers. Since Addie Vochs exemplifies the power of the average person, the underlying questions of this book seem to be, "How do your view your world?" and "Is it a reflection of how you view it?" I speculate that, "Can you imagine your world to be finer and do you?" is the underlying challenge to the reader.
Monarchy is a surprisingly sophisticated book. I imagine that since the groundwork has been laid, the pace of the book will pick up a bit. To be fair, the book had a great deal of groundwork to lay: distinguishing itself from its predecessor, introduction of new characters, relationships to each other, extent of the protagonist's battlefield and an entertaining story all at the same time. The book should prove to be even more engaging in future issues, but this first story arc appears to be critical to understand what is to come.
One frustration I have with the book is the artistic storytelling. The use of silhouettes is overdone and appears to be lazy rather than "mood setting". There are so many shadows that the significant ones are lost in the shuffle. For example, King's eyes emit light as he approaches the security guards whose eyes remain so deep in shadow that they are not even visible. This makes for a nice visual counterpoint which reflects the story's theme of how people view the world. Since the silhouettes run rampant throughout the issue, subtleties such as this are easily lost on the reader and should not be.
To be fair, the artistic detail, panel structure and overall visual pacing of the book has improved dramatically since issue one, but I still charge that all are still lacking. The coloring in this issue sets the appropriate mood for each scene of the book. A fine example would be on Page 3 where panel 2 shows Hishino in his hospital bed. The yellow light spill on the left side of this panel indicates light from the open door in the hallway. Panel 3 has no spill telling us the door is closed and King has arrived. The black page base upon which all panels are rendered also helps define the tone the stories. These simple but dramatic touches are nice to see.
Overall, Monarchy #4 is a strong, thoughtful, effective comic, one that provokes thought for the reader. I find this to be a welcome relief.
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