Comic Review: Kaijumax - Zander Cannon

Kaijumax Season One and Two - Zander Cannon *****

Ever wondered what the Japanese authorities or Ultraman superhero teams do when they round up the monsters who have been raging and rampaging through the streets of downtown Tokyo? You haven't? Well, Zander Cannon has and it turns out to be an interesting and fun idea for a comic that has a certain geeky coolness to it. So now that you have had time to think about it, just what the heck are you supposed to do with Kaiju creatures like Mothra and Godzilla once they've been stopped in their tracks?

Well, you could hope that they return to their undersea lair or remote volcanic island, but obviously the better way of ensuring that they or their offspring don't return for a sequel is to lock them up, and for this purpose Zander Cannon has devised the maximum security kaiju monster prison island of Kaijumax. On Kaijumax you find that you have the same problems as any regular prison. More or less. There are tensions between inmates in the cells (craters), some of the more troublesome beasts hide concealed weapons (you don't want to know where, much less go in looking for them), bad things happen in the showers (waterfalls), drug abuse is rife and there are a few corrupt screws who have been bought who are willing to make a little on the side dealing electricity pylons, smog and a few old-school virgins, although supplies of 'U' or uranium for the harder users are more difficult to come by.

The idea is sound then and has plenty of potential, but it's in the execution that really makes Kaijumax work. As the artist on Alan Moore's Top 10 (the most consistent and brilliant of Moore's America's Best Comics imprint), Zander Cannon demonstrated his ability to visualise some of the most imaginative and unusual superheroes and monsters, something that might not have been evident from his earliest independent writer/artist work on Replacement God. What is interesting about Kaijumax however is that it connects right back to Cannon's initial comic inspiration is that Replacement God also had a prison break element, each issue containing a breakdown of an elaborate scheme hatched by Knute to escape from his castle imprisonment.

There's very much the same kind of wild creative imagination at play in Kaijumax, where evidently - as you would expect from any decent prison drama - the inmates plan a prison break at the end of Season One: 'Terror and Respect'. Kaijumax however is more than just a clever geeky one-off idea of running a bunch of Japanese monsters through a set of prison drama routines. Cannon extends the story to strike a number of different chords and moods, with one 'lizzer' monster Electrogor concerned about his children left to fend for themselves following his capture. There's a kind of racial discontent or rivalry brewing between organic monsters and electronically built models, and the relationships between the administrator, the superhero H.E.R.O.I.S.M. wardens and the prisoners also has to be taken into account. If you think there are some nasty types in prison, imagine how much worse it can be with a prison full of kaiju monsters. Cannon recognises that it's not all going to be a bunch of laughs.

What is most pleasing about Kaijumax however is Cannon's artwork, his visual style and creative panel narrative. It's clear that he is having a blast with the opportunities to create and draw kaiju monsters and find a way of working with them that - in Season One at least - doesn't just involve the regular city-crushing tropes. It has to be said there are some terrific ideas and visual jokes that play on such imagery however, such as the customised gym equipment used by the K-max inmates, but there's plenty of vengeful city wrecking to come in Season Two. Season One is not short of monster rage however, which tends to be sharp and violent in the confines of a prison crater or waterfall and usually involves the wardens powering up to monster proportions to break things up, and Cannon rises to the task with some bold and colourful panels.

As entertaining an idea as Kaijumax is, the potential comedy and drama that can be derived from the monster prison situation is limited; too limited for an imaginative writer/artist like Zander Cannon. It's good to see then that the world of Kaijumax - and indeed the pan-dimensional multiverse - is expanded upon in Season Two: 'The Seamy Underbelly'. Cannon had already hinted as much in Season One that there's considerably more to play with here with occasional excursions into the world, the universe and the dimensions beyond, and in Season Two he takes those first tenuous steps outside the prison cells/craters of Kaijumax with the escape of Electrogor and the Green Humongo. Well, it is a prison drama after all, so inevitably there has to be an escape...

Cannon continues to play on the stereotypes, with the monsters as jive-talking criminal underworld types ("Yo mon!", "My lizza", "Move your ass, Megafauna") and comic incongruity of monsters in that kind of situation. So when there is a prison break, obviously the escapees try to lie low, which is kind of hard when you're the size of a 60-story building. They hole-up with Green's brother the Red Humongo, who has been let out on licence on parole, and is trying to go straight and hold down a regular job... well, 'monster regular' ...but you get the idea. Red doesn't need the heat that two escaped convicts bring, nor the jibes that Green fires at him about the pitiful conditions of the shack (the size of an aircraft hangar or abandoned warehouse) that a once proud terroriser of "Squishers" (humans) has been reduced to. Tensions arise, and when tensions arise between monsters, well, you soon know all about it...

And that's just one threat (and treat) that Season Two has to follow, but the wider expansion of the story has many other imaginative situations. There's a new superhero team in this collection tasked with monitoring and cleaning up monster activity in the region, Team G.R.E.A.T. who have their own personal and 'technical' problems; there's Corporal Singh's descent into drinking at a casino on Mars and his potential rehabilitation; there's the continuing story of Electrogor's concern to be reunited with his children that takes him to an undersea underworld of vice and addiction in a Kraken house. By extension then, the comedy and social satire continues to be just brilliant, showing a population wary of 'biological correctness', using the 'monsters' as a way of examining how society responds with prejudice and racism. Aside from that, in rampaging monsters, mad-scientist development of robot technologies and invasion from creatures from another dimension, you've got the traditional metaphorical undercurrents of fear of the dangers of seismic activity, nuclear disaster and destruction of traditional cultural values. And Zander Cannon's humorous take on it and his terrific creations. What's not to like?

Kaijumax Season One and Season Two by Zander Cannon are published by Oni Press.  Kaijumax Season Three is available in May 2018.

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