Monkey Squad One #14
Oh Monkey Squad One, I am clearly going to need to spend an afternoon reading you all in a clump to set everything straight in my head. The series has been getting more, well, serialized as it goes on, with this issue being the second part of a (projected) six part storyline. Various characters are scattered, other fake versions are around, some heroes are underground and robots have taken over St. Louis. Oh, and their occasional Hulk is reluctant to even try to hulk out again. Welcome to the world of Monkey Squad One! Doug does put a synopsis at the start of each comic (and three cheers to him for doing it), but even with that it’s tough to keep track of all of the characters at this point. Anyway, this issue features a few single or even double page spreads, which is going to look fantastic in the completed edition but is a bit maddening when the story is coming is small bits like this. But hey, I can complain about just about anything, so don’t mind me. The story this time mostly deals with the robot invasion and what life is like for the remnants of Monkey Squad One (the ones who aren’t on the planet made up entirely of ladies). And, yeah, that’s most of what I can cover without giving important bits away. I loved the little throwaway gag of one character cheating in a video game while the other character’s back was turned; that doesn’t give anything away! And those full page spreads did have a story purpose, as they showed the vastness of the hideout and some of the things in the hideout, so it’s not like Doug was just killing pages with all that. As has been the case for several issues now, I recommend this series highly, although you’re better off buying a chunk of them. Actually, looking at their website I don’t even see an area to buy comics, but I do see that most of the older comics are available for free by clicking on the cover, so just do that I guess.
Monkey Squad One #13
How about that cover, huh? It looks like a big mess of nothing, and it’s not possible to make out the one tiny thing that might be a landmark. Until you actually open the book, where you see that it’s the tombstone for Doug, and it all makes sense. In case I haven’t mentioned this in reviews for this series before (it all tends to blend together after awhile and it’s not like I go back and read old reviews which, come to think of it, might not be a bad idea every now and then), Doug has really improved in his pacing of these stories. Human Doug, that is, not the U.N.C.L.E. Doug who died in the last issue. This issue is downright somber by MSO standards. It’s been one year since Doug died, and Brendan and Connor are both dealing with their grief (and their being trapped on an all-girl planet) in different ways. Connor has kept up his training, even though he still seems to be getting his butt kicked on a regular basis. And Brendan has been spending his time mastering a game called Unicorn Picnic, which I desperately wish was a real thing, but I seem to be stuck in this reality. It’s a little odd that Brendan doesn’t spend more time with the ladies, but I can’t remember how old he’s supposed to be, so maybe it’s for the best to avoid awkwardness. Anyway, we see a bit more of this world, Connor gets his braces taken off (mostly), Brendan discovers something that might help them get home, and that’s the end of the main story. Spoilers, kind of, in the most technical sense of the term. This is the first part of a six part series, so Doug has time to let things breathe, and he’s done a wonderful job of it with this issue. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he keeps up a fairly regular publication schedule, as this pace might get annoying on a book that only puts out new issues every couple of years. The backup story involves the fake future earth from 2039 and a prolonged gunfight (including robots!), with a pretty great surprise ending that I’m not going to talk about even a little. This book has gradually turned into one of the books that I most enjoy getting, which is something I didn’t entirely expect when I first started reading it, so kudos to Doug. If you’re not reading this, you really should be, and it looks like Doug has most of the issues up for free at his website so you can get caught up.
Monkey Squad One Annual #2
If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you started off reading terrible superhero comics when you were a kid. Or maybe you were lucky/smart enough to only read the good stuff forever, I don’t know. But let’s say that you read the superhero stuff and thought it was awesome, mostly because you were a child. When I was a kid there was also a yearly issue called an Annual, and these generally fell into one of three categories: either a standalone story that was too big for a regular comic, a part of a much larger crossover event, or a glorified filler issue (meaning a meandering story with pinups and/or character bios to pad out the page count). As much as I’ve been loving this series lately, this issue sadly falls into the latter category. Mostly! This requires an explanation. The point of this issue in theory is to fill in the holes of other recent issues. What happened between certain panels, why one character showed up covered in feces, a few more possible alternative universes that were cut because he ran out of space, etc. And it’s a good theory, as Doug has done an excellent job of building a universe for himself that has plenty of room for such digressions. But stuffing them all into one issue like this makes the whole thing feel scattered, and the concept itself makes that impossible to avoid. If and when he puts out a complete edition of this comic, I’d highly recommend slotting these stories in where they’re supposed to fit instead of putting them all together like this, but I am very much not the boss of him. There are also 8 pretty solid pinup pages, with my only problem being the cardinal sin of so many pinup pages: not putting the names of the artists on each page. Sure, they’re all in the front, but many people are too lazy to go back and check such a thing. So overall, if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of this series, I’d still recommend this as is. If not, maybe wait for the collected edition, if that ever happens? Either way, #13 (of the regular series) starts off a six part story, so I’d recommend that as more of a place to get started on this series if you haven’t already.
Monkey Squad One #12
What a perfect comic to read on a Friday afternoon. Have you been following this thoroughly entertaining series for long? Maybe you find yourself a bit confused by the various plot twists and/or other realities and the constantly increasing cast of characters? Yeah, throw all that out the window. This is the last part of the current three part story, and Doug has a tendency to really bring the action in those situations. He didn’t disappoint this time around, as there’s all kinds of mayhem and explosions in here. And important story elements, don’t get me wrong, as one major character gets killed and the status of another one is in serious doubt, but the star of this issue was the non-stop action. The end of the last issue showed us the squidface Nazis, and three cheers for fictional Nazis for being so readily killable. Seriously, you can get away with just about any type of violence if it’s done to Nazis. Or zombies. Eh, at this point they’re the same thing. Anyway, getting into a lengthy review breaking down every bit of this would spoil the fun, but if you’re looking for a good time in comics, buy this issue already. Technically you should get at least the two issues that came before this to complete the story, but if you’re looking for pure mayhem this issue alone should do it for you. $2.50
Monkey Squad One #11
Ah, the bane of the small press comics world: the second part of a three part series. Actually, I could think of a few dozen things off the top of my head that are bane-ier than that, but it’s always a little bit of work to get caught up on something that’s only published every few months. Doug does a great job of always putting a recap in his comics, although at this point I could use a damned flow chart to keep up with the always increasing cast of characters. I mean that in only the good way, as by #11 of a series like this your cast of characters should be huge. Anyway, things were left on a cliffhanger last time around, what with two of our heroes going up against a giant ant and his tiny rider and the rest of them making their way to the land of the women from #4 (why oh why is there no collected edition of this out yet? Financial plausibility schminancial schmausibility). One of these altercations is taken care of quickly, and we learn that many years have passed in this lady land since #4 while only a few months have passed here. The rest of the issue deals with spies, boob-shaped panic rooms, explaining what exactly is going on here and the introduction of what appear to be some pretty awesome new villains. The finale to this arc should be out in April, and Doug is usually pretty good at keeping his deadlines, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of this stuff comes together. Here’s hoping he keeps up the good work and finds a publisher willing to put all of these issues into one big old book. $2.50
Monkey Squad One #10
Layers, people! That’s what you need to make any long-running comic successful. And yes, in the small press world, ten issues (and an annual, don’t forget the annual) does indicate a long-running comic. The comics that have some sort of a master plan are the ones that are going to be successful. Granted, Doug does seem be winging a few things here and there (in my humble opinion, as it’s not like I’ve seen a series outline or anything), but he refers back to several older incidents in this issue, with the promise of more resolutions to come. Of course, this kind of long range planning is only really effective if there’s some sort of collected graphic novel of a large chunk of the series available, which is something that should really be corrected in the near future, he says in a “hint hint” fashion. Anyway! This issue marks the start of a new three part series, with the next part coming out in December. Doug is somebody who has (as far as I’ve been able to tell) kept to a pretty good schedule, so I’ll trust him on that. The man in charge learns that the squad went to a planet that was populated only by women a bit ago (referring back to older happenings; see what I mean?) and decides that he has to get there. Logan has been transformed into a Hulk, so he doesn’t go along (although we do see his troubles trying to get clothes that fit and fitting through doorways), but UNCLE Doug and the other two members head out to try and find that world again. Things don’t go as smoothly as all that, obviously, and things are left dangling with a big old battle on the way for the next issue (as this is part one of three, that’s the natural place to end it). Logan also gets into some trouble, as you can’t have a character who has been hulkified and NOT throw him into a battle somewhere, but that’s also something that’ll be dealt with in the next issue. My journey from being indifferent to this series to cautiously optimistic to absolutely thrilled to get a new issue in the mail has been bumpy, but it’s now complete. And, unless you have an unnaturally strong aversion to anything resembling a superhero comic, you should hop on this bandwagon right now. $2.50
Monkey Squad One #9
It was damned tempting, but I managed to not sample the page that revealed what that giant shadow was from the cover. Which, come to think of it, makes no sense at all with the characters depicted, but hey, Marvel and DC cheat with their covers all the time, so why not the little guys? This is the final chapter in the three part zombie story, and I have to say that it has a disappointing number of zombies in it. I guess the last two issues were chock full of them, so a little drop-off was to be expected. Things start off here with the team dealing with the fact that Logan was bitten at the end of the last issue. Then the boss of the group reveals that he has had secret super powers all along by throwing the other monkey squad at the nuclear missile that was heading towards them. The conclusion to that makes no logical sense whatsoever, he says while reviewing a comic about a zombie invasion that came about when the saddest song ever written was sung. Anyway, the missile is taken care of, Logan gets some advanced treatment (with an unexpected side effect), and Doug (in the comic, not the artist) gets his old band back together to sing the sad song needed to lure the zombies to their death. Re-death. Whatever. There are still a few solid pages of zombie mayhem, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that Doug set the bar a little higher with past issues on that front. Which, come to think of it, probably explains why he didn’t want to draw page after page with hundreds of zombies on them for this issue. It’s a nice satisfying wrap up to the story, there are plenty of funny bits sprinkled throughout and we even learned a tiny bit more about the driving force behind their team. I’m hooked and can’t wait to see what comes next, which is a far cry from my initial reaction to this series. Which is just a reminder to you people out there who don’t care for one of my reviews of your work, as it’s more than possible to win me over. Likely, even, if you keep at it and stick to your vision. Oh, and another possibility for that shadow just occurred to me, so maybe Doug wasn’t cheating after all. Or at least he has a very plausible alibi if he was… $2.50
Monkey Squad One #8
One thing that bugs me about most of the zombie apocalypse fiction/shows/games out there is that they rarely bothers to explain WHY said apocalypse is happening, mostly because 60 years or so after “Night of the Living Dead” everybody just understands that it’s bound to happen sooner or later and nobody knows why. Well, that’s lazy storytelling right there. Doug, to his credit, has an inspired explanation for this version of a zombie attack: they raised up just as the saddest song ever written was being sung by a man who was perfecting his depression for years. This man can also prevent the zombies from eating him if he keeps playing, but has no control over them other than that, and I’m getting ahead of myself. This one starts off with the origin story of the man who kicks things off, and it turns out that he knew Doug (Monkey Squad Doug, not real life artist Doug) back in the day and they had their own band. When things get back to the present we see the current members of Monkey Squad One gleefully taking advantage of this rare opportunity to shoot zombies at close range, while the people at their headquarters are trying to figure out how to rein things in. The sad rocker, Monkey Squad One and the other group of Monkey Squad types (I don’t remember their number) eventually all meet up, and I can’t get too much further into things without giving away large spoilery bits. I loved that cliffhanger ending, and it would be tough to think up one that was much more dramatic than that. I may have been slow getting on this particular bandwagon, but Doug (the creator, not the character) won me over the old-fashioned way: through interesting stories that were well thought out and put together. The art doesn’t hurt a thing, as he clearly spent some time on damned near every zombie in the background when he probably could have gotten away with a few faceless blobs here and there. And the violence! I’m not sure if depicting intestines as striped is anatomically accurate, but it makes for a nice touch in the double page spread of zombie mayhem. Next issue wraps up this storyline, so if you’re looking to jump into this series but are intimidated by that “#8” on the cover, pick up the last issue, this one and #9 when it comes out. One complete story just for you! $2.50
Monkey Squad One #7
OK, I’m officially converted. I was on the fence after the first couple of issues of this (that I saw, anyway, as I missed the first four issues), but then loved the recent annual. This particular comic is a thing of beauty, and I’m going back and forth on either explaining every bit of this comic or leaving it all to your imaginations. A happy medium would be best, don’t you think? It was mentioned in the last issue that the squad would be escorting a rapper to an awards show. But, thanks to the fact that this comic comes out on a regular basis and Doug has time to spend on such things, we get a few pages of backstory for this rapper before things get going. Then we jump to the gang sitting around listening to the rapper tell his story, and a fantastic ongoing gag begins: this group of kids trying to understand the language of an old white rapper. There’s plenty of comedy gold to be mined from that subject. Then we get to the digestive issues (that I could have done without, but hey, it is a group of kids we’re talking about), a roadblock, and then: zombie apocalypse. Regular readers of the site can stop right now, as that’s generally enough to get my seal of approval, but wait, there’s more! This is where it gets tricky in terms of saying too much, but the conversation about the believability of zombies in movies being turned into zombies while they were in full gear (cheerleader, clown, that sort of thing) never striking them as all that believable was fantastic. Anyway, the whole comic was a good old fashioned blast, and that full page of images of puzzles that they had to solve (all video game staples and cleverly done) now holds a special place in my heart. See, this is why I always tell people whose work I’m on the fence about to please keep sending me their stuff and to try and work out the problems that I point out. Not that I’m a guru at making a successful comic, but I like to think I at least have a few useful pointers on how to make it look more professional. Doug has improved by leaps and bounds in a few issues (not that he was terrible to begin with by any stretch) and now I have one more comic that I love seeing on a regular basis. $2.50
Monkey Squad One Annual #1
It can be difficult for people to know when to jump in during an ongoing series, especially in the world of mini comics where early issues can go out of print in a hurry. Well, if you have any interest at all in this series, and it is a lot of fun from what I’ve seen so far, start with this issue. There is a detailed issue by issue recap on the front inside cover, there are character bios for everybody you could think of, and there’s even a schematic of their headquarters. If I can find the past issues of this series (the organizing system here in my apartmentÂ is in a bit of a shambles) I think they would make much more sense now that I know what came before. This issue is more about story snippets and catching up with the characters than anything else, so don’t go looking for one coherent storyline. Still, this is the sort of issue that ends up being invaluable in a long run, and it sure sounds like Doug is gearing up for a long run. The story bits we do see include the Squad sitting around and chatting about getting to go to the Kid’s Choice Awards, the training of a young Connor (beginning at age 7, but then again nobody on the team is even a teenager yet), some new members of Monkey Squad Two followed quickly by their disbanding (that would be a spoiler if it wasn’t listed clearly on the cover), another piece from the alternate future timeline story (and I love that it refers to the exact pages of the issue in question and where this new story would fit, that’s some excellent attention to detail right there), and a nice flashback story to the Monkey Squad from 1996 including who was on the team, who they were fighting and what happened to some of them. Really, all my complaints about past issues go right out the window with this one. Now I know what’s going on and who all these people are, and that really goes a long way. I have no idea how Doug could pack this much information into a recap for a regular issue, which is one more reason why this series is screaming out for a website. The man needs a central location to keep all this information straight, not to mention a place to show off his artwork. One last thing I have to mention is that Doug sent a letter along with this saying that he’s dedicated to making me a fan, which is exactly the right attitude for anybody to have who has received a less than glowing review. Try harder, put out better work and if you still don’t win me over, who cares? I’m some chatty guy with a website. Improving your comic should be the goal all by itself, and that should be a constant goal if you’re taking all of this seriously. And Doug, yes, you have officially won me over. Unless the next issue sucks… $2.50
Monkey Squad One #6
Well, if the last issue at least mildly dealt with the characters, this issue is all about mayhem. I’m also torn on the recap, as it’s funny as hell, but functionally useless.Â Ah screw it, I’ll let “funny” win out.Â Anyway, Monkey Squad One is getting their behinds kicked by the giant monster from the last issue, Monkey Squad Two is happy to come to the rescue (after they finish eating dinner), and the cast of villains is still watching the spectacle from a nearby rooftop.Â The monster gets increasingly out of control until one of the MSO members shoots a giant laser beam out of his eyeballs, which seemed a bit odd to me, but I don’t know the full history here. The giant battle continues, Monkey Squad Two shows up (and they sure seem a lot more competent than Monkey Squad One), then we get to the point where I can’t say much else without giving stuff away.Â It’s a reasonably fun ride, although it may not be for me, as I’m mostly over giant anime robots, sadly enough.Â Still, that’s not to say that you wouldn’t like it if you enjoy mayhem, giant robots and interpersonal drama with a team of teenagers (?) and their constant efforts to save the world, so don’t let my general fuddy-duddiness get you down.Â I did approve of Doug’s obvious fixed to misspelled words, even if did stick out a bit, because it’s better than the alternative of leaving the wrong spelling in out of laziness or stupidity.Â And the art was impressive for what the genre needed to show, so I don’t have a clear explanation of my generally “meh” reaction other than, like I said, my own personal inability to feel joy.Â If you still have that power, get this comic and enjoy!Â $2.50
Monkey Squad One #5
Is Doug secretly Donovan Cater in disguise?Â Seriously, the similarity in the artwork is uncanny (go ahead and look around at some of the ancient (because he appears to have vanished from comics) Donovan Cater reviews and see if I’m wrong).Â Well, I’ll go with the theory that it’s a different person, as a close inspection does show that it probably isn’t Donovan.Â Doug does a smart thing right off the bat: he lets the reader know what happened in the last issue.Â As this is “#5” that is crucial, but you’d be surprised how many comics creators just don’t bother to keep readers up to date.Â Anyway, U.N.C.L.E. Doug (leader of Monkey Squad One) is on trial for losing the team, even though they’ve been lost in time and it apparently isn’t his fault.Â The trial goes badly, Doug has a ridiculously easy time escaping from this supposedly secure facility (he is aided by the fact that gravity apparently doesn’t apply to him), and meets up with some old foes to help him out.Â They, unsurprisingly, don’t help him out, but it’s a funny conversation that leads them to that conclusion.Â Things devolve a bit into Star Wars parody from there, and hasn’t the universe as a whole decided that the prequel movies were so awful that people were no longer allowed to parody Star Wars any more?Â Except for Robot Chicken and Family Guy, but they only get away with it because they’re rich and occasionally have scathing satire.Â Well, more Robot Chicken than Family Guy on that front, but I’m getting off topic here.Â The Rancor is played in this comic by Granmonster, who is able to fill that role as well as getting loose in the town and fulfilling the “giant monster on the loose” requirement.Â The comic as a whole is fairly amusing, even with me being at the point of Star Wars parodies just bugging me.Â Overall I’ll need another issue to really make up my mind, so it’s a good thing Doug was nice enough to send the next issue along as well.Â Even with the recap I don’t know if it’s a good idea to start at #5 of a series; if you’re looking to give it a shot maybe see if the guy has earlier issues available.Â $2.50