Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘Kaijumax Book One: Deluxe Edition’, available now in hardcover from Oni Press.
by Arpad Okay. Kaijumax, an island prison, for monsters, by monsters. A complicated story with ever-shifting sympathies. Big stomping tropes dance a delicate step, a four color cartoon peels back the layers of injustice. Not in monster society, or in tokusatsu society. In ours. Kaijumax will get you with worry, with sympathy, empathy, compassion. Sound out its hidden depths and see the echoes in our world and lives. Zander Cannon explicitly, effectively, gets his Nietzsche on.
Prison sucks. Prison is crooked. Even when you’re a giant bug, a robot monster, a cryptid, it’s too rough to be believed. The gangs, made up of dragons, bibendum, monkey fish hybrids, beat you up in the yard, or a half-plucked turkey with a rock for a head does much worse to you in the waterfall showers. The guards, Ultraman-esque gargantuan transformers, or piloted man-shaped living mecha, are hustling radioactive drugs, throwing you in a literal hole for talking back, speciesist, cruel.
A hundred feet tall, equipped with blasts and claws and a million ways to squish mankind, and the whole population of Kaijumax is still rendered powerless. Empathize, please, for prison is pitiless.
Cannon has you feeling for the inmates, the ones who aren’t sadist sociopaths, by setting up a seemingly black and white situation—a monster prison island set in a world of grey. Not all guilt is of the same severity. Not all guilt is punished. Look at the wrongly incarcerated. Look at the guards on the take. Kaijumax is clouded with sadness. Its heroes are beaten, defeated. Its villains, traditionally the heroes, are smug and power mad.
Kaijumax isn’t pulling any punches. Yet, Cannon is concerned with the tone of his book. It’s black, it’s bleak, but it isn’t excessive or ultraviolent. This isn’t some gonzo exploitation story, Oz or Female Prisoner Scorpion. Kaijumax is tugging hard at your heartstrings, not socking you in the guts. Well, it is, but it is a meaningful, well-timed sucker punch to bring the drama to its knees, not the relentless pummeling one might expect from a bent book about beast jail.
Measured, too, is the magnificent artwork Cannon conjured up for Kaijumax. The lines are bold and clear, the texture slight and augmented by strong colors with subtle shading; a cartoonish, Disney Afternoon meets Evan Dorkin look just right for the subject matter. Cannon paints a world of metal and brick, suede, silk, and scaled skin, each subtle and different, all gelling together bright and boisterous. He captures beauty in a giant robot rückenfigur turned to the sunset. Cannon brings tears to a monster’s eyes and holds them there. He can pull off a grimace of disgust from beneath a mask.
Kaijumax is a growing darkness. A rot, from inside out, the unjust prison system, people themselves. Those who bend to the curve of authority are the worst of us. To keep all kaiju in chains, to wipe them out with detention and poverty, and to build kaiju to use as their enforcers. Men do this, not monsters. And the prisoners? George Saunders put it best: “At birth, they’d been charged by God with the responsibility of growing into total fuck-ups.” Make your way through the maze that is Kaijumax and you’ll find each villain becomes a hero and every hero a mask for a scoundrel.
The pull Kaijumax has goes beyond what it looks like and where it comes from. A million points to Zander Cannon for a meticulous, lovingly researched, and flawlessly executed tribute to tokusatsu culture synthesized into his personal style. The Deluxe Edition annotations and movie reviews are a priceless treasure trove of reference material unto themselves. You could walk away from Kaijumax with a checklist of film and television essentials as long as your arm (if you were Gudon).
But. Vision. A story of no small importance is told here, using the cloak of lusus naturae as its vehicle. If you can’t see past the metaphor of prison for monsters, where the real beasts are human, and into our broken prison-industrial complex, where the pipeline of incarceration for “other” is built and maintained by pedestrian despots, you aren’t reading it right.
Oni Press / $59.99
Written by Zander Cannon.
Illustrated by Zander Cannon.
Colored by Zander Cannon and Jason Fischer.
Lettered by Zander Cannon.
You can purchase ‘Kaijumax Book One: Deluxe Edition’ HC directly from Oni Press now.
Check out this preview gallery of ‘Kaijumax Book One: Deluxe Edition’, courtesy of Oni Press!
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