By Zander Cannon and Jason Fischer
Kaijumax is an Oni Press comic about giant monsters that draws major influence from the Toho giant monster films; in particular it’s crammed full of allusions and direct references to Toho’s kaiju films of the ‘70s. The ‘70s is a generally neglected era in Toho’s filmography, the shiny monster mash stylings of the ‘60s had faded and the sleek, dark styles of the ‘80s were still a distant memory. The ‘70s was an era of pop art irreverence and an overall predilection for a more child-friendly tone and focus. This was the era when giant monsters could talk, Godzilla was a heroic defender of Earth, and Jet Jaguar and Minya roamed the screen. Basically, it was an era more or less defined by Godzilla’s Revenge, the worst film in the Godzilla series and a major reference point for Kaijumax. While you don’t need to understand all the Kaiju shout outs and references being dropped in Kaijumax, they certainly enhance the experience and make a lot of the dialogue and references flow more smoothly. For instance, there’s a character this issue who’s nicknamed “Frankenstein,” a joke you probably won’t get unless you’re familiar with both Frankenstein Conquers The World and its sequel War of the Gargantuas.
As to the actual plot, Kaijumax is essentially a prison drama that happens to star giant monsters. In Kaijumax giant monsters are more like the criminal elements of an oppressed minority group that humans fight against for any number of reasons. This is one of Kaijumax’ key strokes of incredible brilliance as the purposeful vagueness with which it paints the allegory of the Kaiju affords them a wide breadth of subjects. Some of the kaiju, like our lead Electrogor, are victims of expanding human society. Electrogor isn’t evil so much as he’s just a guy trying to provide for his spawnlings and live his life in a world that’s progressively shrinking under the constant advance of human progress, an advance he inevitably ran afoul of. Electrogor is how we view the prison’s destructive impact the prison has on someone who is generally more of an innocent, a theme that peppers the books several main storylines.
That’s the other genius trick of structuring that informs Kaijumax: framing the story as a cast drama allows us to explore a lot of very engaging aspects of the prison. The comic is essentially being written as a television show in a lot of ways, with one-off stories that follow side characters, characters moving in and out of the main plot, and even the concept of ‘seasons.’ Aside from actually labeling this issue as the season 1 finale, the progression of story within Kaijumax tends to follow a television format, with issue #5’s penultimate installment as more of a climax while this issue is about setting up new stories for next season. Even so, this issue is full of great turns and twists that help establish the new status quo and do a good job raising everyone’s stakes from last time.
The most engaging plot of the series revolves around Kumicho, the idiot son of the monster king Ape-Whale. Kumicho’s been having visits by a freaky, sociopathic small boy in a storyline that’s a direct reference to Godzilla’s Revenge, only infinitely darker. Both Electrogor and Kumicho’s stories are about the devastating impact of a prison environment on the innocent or moralistic and they’re both some of the darkest plots to ever appear in the bright pastels and cartoony designs of a ‘70s Toho tribute.
Speaking of, the artwork for Kaijumax is absolutely great. It’s author Zander Cannon doing the artwork as well and he absolutely crushes it. He seems to have an inexhaustible supply of brilliant kaiju concepts to show off and is an absolute master of subtle suggestion in his visuals. If a kaiju is meant to remind you of a Toho monster you’ll definitely pick up on it, while others exist as purposefully removed from the source material. Colorist Jason Fischer does a superb job as well. As mentioned the bright colors of the comic are part of its very off-putting nature, blending together what is very much cartoon art with dark plots about murder and corruption.
Corruption really is at the heart of Kaijumax’s artistic soul. Almost every storyline revolves around it in some way while exploring the concept in a variety of unique and engaging ideas. In characters like Electrogor or Gupta, a corrupt guard, the corruption is more external and literal with the realities of life on Kaijumax slowly draining away at them and filling them up with something worse. Other characters like Kumicho and Dr. Zhang, the prison doctor whose fallen for one of the inmates, the corruption at hand is internal and insidious as their minds and very souls slowly erode to better match their surroundings. The harshness of the stories at hand, especially coupled with the lighter visual aesthetic, might be off-putting to some, but if you can tune your brain to Kaijumax’s frequency you’ll find this an excellent read and easily the best sci-fi allegory currently being published in comics.