As many of my recent reviews have suggested, I’m really enjoying MonkeyBrain’s output right now. The first book of theirs I reviewed was the first issue of Skybreaker, which I enjoyed, and which has got better with each passing issue: plus, IDW recently announced they would be releasing a full-colour graphic novel collection of the series. The first two issues of Theremin thoroughly knocked my socks off, leaving me breathlessly anticipating more. I also read and liked an issue of Amelia Cole, and have plans to pick up IDW’s graphic novel release of that. And I positively gushed with praise for the first 5 issues of Bandette, which has been one of the comic highlights of the year thus far for me. So, given such a pedigree, Knuckleheads was a very easy sell, and I was keen to see if it followed the trend of quality set out by its stablemates.
As far as the narrative goes, Knuckleheads isn’t quite so densely-packed with storytelling goodness as the likes of Theremin or Bandette, where each issue leaves you exhausted and feeling like 40 pages of story has just been crammed into a 14-page bag. I’m glad that I was able to read issues 1-3 in quick succession, as while the first issue alone didn’t quite have enough meat to grab me, the first 3 issues in tandem worked together to tell a satisfying story that I found highly enjoyable. Writer Brian Winkeler punctures the monster-battling dramatics with a wry humour, with comedy diverse enough to range from witty banter to dependably-hilarious puke gags.
This is very much a character-driven story, with Winkeler quickly establishing a small cast of well-rounded characters with distinct, credible voices. With his leading man Trevor K. Trevinski – a slobbish layabout granted a highly powerful alien weapon, but who would rather use it for cheating on video games than for superheroics – Winkeler wisely eschews an origin story (which would risk turning Trevor into a guy something happens to and thus foregrounding the mechanics of the story at the expense of his personality) and instead jumps straight to Trevor doing what he does best: sitting on the sofa, shirking responsibility. And he doesn’t really grow or mature over the course of his first adventure when he’s finally forced into action either, which is refreshing: his motivation for overcoming his natural “I’m gonna turn and run away as fast as I can” reponse to seeing a giant monster seems to be the chance to impress a hot girl. But seeing his clumsy, unconventional transformation into a hero is all the more entertaining as a result. Equally effective in supporting roles are Trev’s friend Lance and the poor soul only known as “Pizza Guy”, who provide a running commentary for Trev’s monster battle over the course of these early issues.
The art of Robert Wilson is a good match for Winkeler’s story, with the cartoonish vibe an apt match for the story’s madcap tone, giving everything a sense of fun. He has a knack for facial expressions, with some of the biggest laughs of the series coming from panels with perfectly-pitched silent reaction shots. Some of the figure work is a bit inconsistent, with the crisp, clean lines that characterise Wilson’s work at its best giving way to rough patches on occasion, or with a facial expression that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Thankfully, one area where Wilson is absolutely consistent is in his realisation of the monster Trev and co must face, known in the script as “the big alien dog.” This is a fantastic design, not so gruesome so as to upset the lighthearted tone, but still suitably menacing.
And worthy of special mention are the colors of Jordan Boyd. Detly switching from a bright, cheery pallette to an ominous blue glow at the key points when Trevor taps into his power, Boyd’s colors give Wilson’s art a slick, professional sheen that brings everything together into a polished aesthetic.
But as enjoyable as the main stories were for me, I may have actually found the backmatter to be the highlight of each individual issue. These blurbs offer some fascinating insight into the creative process behind the book, from recounting the story of how the creative team released a black-and-white version of this comic three years back but decided to redraw the whole thing (including redesigning the monster) when it came time to do a color version through Monkeybrain, to some thought-provoking analysis of how to create eye-catching covers for the digital comic market: and it should be noted that the covers are indeed gorgeous. I love when comics have stuff like this included in the package, it really makes you feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck.
Overall, Knuckleheads may not be quite the resounding triumph of MonkeyBrain’s best titles, but it doesn’t let the side down either, emerging as a fun, entertaining romp in its own right. Brian Winkeler and Robert Wilson IV make a great team, ably assisted by Jordan Boyd and letterer Thomas Mauer, and I’m keen to see what Trev and friends get up to next. According to the teaser, it involves pancakes.
Knuckleheads #1-#3 are now available to buy from Comixology.