'Destroy All Monsters' is Another Brutally Addictive Read
We plunge into the latest 'Reckless' graphic novel from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and relish its brutally stubborn protagonist.
The last several months have sucked, but at least we've got Ethan Reckless, Ed Brubaker, and Sean Phillips. Their previous two collaborations were bright spots in a wretchedly miserable year, and their latest, Destroy All Monsters, arrives just when I find myself in another downswing of emotions. Can they keep cranking out these original graphic novels every three months for the rest of my life? That would be swell.
And it's not like these Reckless comics are rays of sunshine. The streets, alleys, basements, and dives Ethan traverses are scarred with horrific acts and their treacherous perpetrators. Brubaker and Phillips walk in the same shadows as James M. Cain, John D. MacDonald, and Richard Stark. Hidden in those dark corners are failure, disappointment, and despair. So far, Ethan has made it out alive, and thanks to the constant narration written from someplace in the future, we can gain hope from that. He'll dodge whatever gets thrown his way.
My father once asked me, "Why do you enjoy brutally violent stories?" At the time, I could only muster a shrug, but his question has sat in my head ever since. I can't deny an appetite for extremity. I like my comics stuffed with grim, punishing action and grotesque consequence. There is a thrill to seeing a splash of red on the page. But, with each return to such gnarly stories, I snatch a better understanding of their allure.
The violence is not important. It's the after that matters, the survival. Ethan Reckless is caught in a vice press. The world has him in its grip, and every morning he wakes up, the squeeze is a little tighter. In Destroy All Monsters, Ethan's body begins to crack under such stress. He no longer moves like he once did, and recovering from punches is an ordeal.
As with all Reckless books, this one begins in medias res. The partially abandoned movie theater where Ethan conducts his business is ablaze. And when he arrives on the scene, he discovers a man with a gas mask and a crowbar. The prologue ends with a crack on the head, and from there, we learn how Ethan's impossibly stubborn disposition brought this attack upon himself. And, even more tragically, his sidekick Anna.
Up until this point, Anna has primarily been a charming supporting player. She's the movie maniac with a heart that bleeds punk. She sees right through Ethan's dismissive behavior and champions the tiny moral man who steers his ship. He can moan and rage all he wants, but when those proverbial chips fall where they may, Ethan will make the right play.
It's 1988. They've been knocking around for a while now. They've got a flow, a process. When an interloper comes between them, the change grates tremendously on Ethan's nerves. His annoyances become passive-aggressive comments, then actively aggressive barbs. The friendship bends to a breaking point, and that's when a local politico comes knocking.
Ethan Reckless is not a P.I. He's not a gumshoe. He's a fixer. You got a problem; he can help. If you need a rival's life shattered, for the right price, he'll get to demolishing.
Destroy All Monsters drags Ethan to the point of unlikability. Just where we want all our noir avengers. And he's viciously rewarded for his foibles. The crowbar crack on the head is the least of his troubles. When you're assigned to snuff a reputation, you better be prepared for the blowback, and when you're in an Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips comic, that blowback will hit like an atom bomb.
These Reckless comics are looking better and better as well. Once you think you understand the rhythm of Phillips' paneling, he throws a swerve. There are moments where I felt like I was sitting in an IMAX theater watching Dunkirk, where the ratio shifts, the black bars pull away, and the frame expands to fill your entire vision. Certain panels in Destroy All Monsters become your entire universe, even though they take up a third of the page. It's incredible.
And an extra shout-out to Jacob Phillips and his colors. Opening the book with fire and smoke is an easy, undeniably gorgeous hook. But it's in the L.A. daylight where the colors deceptively engage. Jacob Phillips captures that Robert Altman/The Long Goodbye sheen, where beaming beaches and glass-lined strip malls showcase an antiseptic, emotional darkness. And when he does slip a shadow into those vivid landscapes, they feel all the more predatory.
Most exciting of all, Destroy All Monsters is not a rehash of the first graphic novel or Friend of the Devil. When you have pulp adventurers like this one, the character and the scenarios around them can fall into a pattern. It's this kind of case over and over and over again. While all three Reckless narratives extend from classic hardboiled scenarios, none behave as those scripts have taught us. And Ethan is changing.
When you reach Destroy All Monsters' climax, you're going to hit a jaw-drop. It's the best wallop Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips has given us, and it makes me incredibly excited for the next Reckless outing (The Ghost in You, coming soon). You have to wonder what this series will actually become, as it might not be the thing we thought it was. It's definitely better.
Ethan Reckless is a survivor. He exists on our savage planet, and he trudges on. The joy in observing his experience is not in the agony he receives or delivers; it's in the rise he makes after the fall. What does Rocky Balboa say? "It ain't how hard you hit. It's how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It's about how much you can take and keep moving forward."
There's no wall Ethan can't bust through or climb. And that's what I'd tell my father if he were to ask me again about my love affair with brutal, violent stories. We all face defeat. We all find ourselves knocked out on the floor with the world burning around us. Getting back up again is the inspiration. Just go where that mean bastard Ethan goes - forward.
Quickie Review: Destroy All Monsters marks Ethan Reckless' next evolutionary stage. The fixer only thinks he's seen it all and done it all. There are still many more surprises left ahead of him and us. The work of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is essential comic book storytelling. It succeeds in style, vision, character, and narrative. We're three books down, but I'm already demanding an endless supply. Although, I am worried about that next book. Which is where we should always be with Ethan. Nervous but confident. 10/10
Destroy All Monsters: A Reckless Book
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
On Sale: October 13, 2021
Synopsis: The next book in the red-hot RECKLESS series is here!
"Oh man, this book pushed every crime fiction button for me...Bliss." —PATTON OSWALT
Bestselling crime noir masters ED BRUBAKER and SEAN PHILLIPS bring us a new original graphic novel starring troublemaker-for-hire Ethan Reckless.
It's 1988, and Ethan has been hired for his strangest case yet: finding the secrets of a Los Angeles real estate mogul. How hard could that be, right? But what starts as a deep dive into the life of a stranger will soon take a deadly turn, and Ethan will risk everything that still matters to him.
Another smash hit from the award-winning creators of RECKLESS, PULP, MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES, CRIMINAL, and KILL OR BE KILLED—and a must-have for all BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS fans!