Sunday, October 31, 2021

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, with Jacob Phillips


1988, Los Angeles, and Ethan Reckless is feeling his age. His body aches all over -- reminders of the gunshots, stabbings, and explosions he's survived -- and he's a step slower, in both a literal and intellectual sense. How did it all go to shit so fast? 

Anna, Ethan's more-than-sidekick-but-not-quite-partner-slash-best-friend is also feeling her age. Approaching thirty, with a steady boyfriend, she wants to get out from beneath Ethan's shadow, find out who she is and what she wants to make of her life. To that end, Anna's decided to move in with Dmitri, crossing the 405 freeway -- across town from where she and Ethan have worked and lived, it might as well be across the country -- and it scares Ethan. So much so, that he acts like a dick, making it easier for Anna to cut the ties necessary to shack up with her boyfriend, even if he talks through classic movies. 

Untethered, lost, Ethan dives back into his work and takes on a case that's bigger than he can handle by himself. He calls Anna, both to borrow her car and see if she wants to go in on the case with him. She agrees, but remains distant. 

On its surface, this job should be a cake walk. So, of course, everything goes to shit, just not in the way Ethan could have anticipated. Maybe if he was younger . . . ah, but there's no good to come of pursuing that thought. Even once the case is completed, despite its unsatisfactory conclusion, it isn't really over. Their target still has one card up his sleeve. How will Ethan & Anna escape that final play, and can their friendship survive, even if they get out alive? 

Destroy All Monsters is the third book in the Reckless series from writer Ed Brubaker & artist Sean Phillips, with colors by Jacob Phillips, and it's another home run for this stellar creative team. Brubaker's writing feels effortless, as he continues to hone his craft to a razor sharpness. The pacing of the book is top-notch, allowing me to dwell on a page or a panel, even as the narrative urges me forward, turning pages to see what's next. The twists and feints evolve naturally from the characters and the setting, the seedy underbelly of 80s L.A., with none of it seeming forced. And the people (using the term characters just seems wrong) all feel fully realized, even when the limits of space only allows for a quick sketch. 

In particular, for those who've been following this series and already know Ethan and Anna, this third book offers the readership a wonderful insight into their personal history, as well as their relativistic present, providing a better, and fuller, understanding of these two friends. One feels for them, as their friendship is tested throughout this story, and the audience is left to wonder how their relationship will look, going forward. It is this -- the dynamic of Ethan and Anna's relationship -- that I found most fulfilling in my reading of Destroy All Monsters, even with the expected excellence of the plot. This rupture in their friendship is the core of the book, as their relationship is the core of this entire series, and Brubaker adds so much to that dynamic with this third installment of the Reckless series. 

Sean Phillips equals his collaborator with this book, as he has done for many years. Phillips's clean linework grounds these stories, and his clear storytelling means readers are never lost, even if they're unsure of where the story may be heading. He evokes 1980s L.A. -- from the buildings to the cars to the fashions -- allowing the audience to lose themselves within the story and enhancing the reading experience to a great degree. Like Brubaker, Phillips, with his economy and precision of linework, makes it look all too easy. It is not, but it's a testament to his skill that it comes across this way. What a wonderful synergy of creative talents. I suppose that's what comes of working together these past couple of decades. 

And Jacob Phillips, Sean's son, is no slouch himself. His colors are reminiscent of watercolors, adding another dimension to the story. Sometimes the coloring is representational, setting us directly on a sidewalk in a residential neighborhood, while other times the color choices feel abstract, to a degree, evoking an emotion or feeling rather than anything resembling photorealism. And yet, it all works brilliantly. This is one of the aspects of this team's creative output that allows it to stand apart from the rest of the comics on the shelves, and I, for one, am here for it. 

Destroy All Monsters, as with so much from this creative team, is a master class in comic book storytelling. Whenever a new book from Brubaker & Phillips arrives, I always place it on the top of my to-read pile. And when I close the covers, I am never disappointed. This latest endeavor, a series of self-contained graphic novels that combine to tell a broader narrative with Ethan and Anna, has been outstanding. I love the characters. I love the stories. And I love the format. I am excited to know there is a fourth book arriving relatively soon. I can only hope there will be many more after that. Regardless, I can't wait.


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