Kaijumax, written and illustrated by artist/writer Zander Cannon, is just what it sounds like: a comic allegedly about Kaiju sent to a maximum security prison island in the South Pacific. Frankly if you’re going to be sent to a maximum security island, the South Pacific is probably a pretty sweet place to be sent. The “Kaiju” have their own craters where they are locked up, like cells. So we can only assume this island had a lot of volcanic activity in the past.
The premise is intriguing as at first glance it seems to give a nod to the classic Destroy All Monsters. In Destroy All Monsters humans had created a Monster Island lockup where dangerous Kaiju were kept safely away from humanity. In the movie the monsters were allegedly well cared for, their needs met by their benevolent keepers—like in a zoo (kind of insulting to the monsters if you ask me.) In Destroy All Monsters, aliens release and control the monsters, sending them to attack various high profile cities in their bid to take over the planet.
The more I thought about it, after having read the comic, the more I began to relate it to Godzilla’s Revenge, not Destroy All Monsters. The Kaiju in Kaijumax are not really Kaiju. They’re people and badly stereotypical people at that. We have our gangsters, our religious zealots, our snitches, the innocent guy caught up in an indiscriminant net, the hardened criminal about to get out on a technicality—you name it the cliché is probably in there somewhere.
I’m afraid that Kaijumax commits the same sin that the 1998 Godzilla starring Matthew Brodrick committed, the same flaw the first Hulk movie (Ang Lee) and even Cloverfield fell into: When you promise something, especially in the title; you must deliver that something. We all know the 1998 Godzilla movie is not Godzilla, Ang Lee’s The Hulk never delivered The Hulk we expected and Cloverfield got so caught up in its own cleverness it failed to deliver a monster. Yes I know Cloverfield has a cult following. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a bad movie and it doesn’t deliver a monster.
Kaijumax is perhaps closer to Cloverfield than the others I mention in that it is caught up in its own cleverness to the point of distracting from the story—or rather from the Kaiju. For example, many people when faced with something horrible or unjust use the phrase, “oh my god.” Well in Kaijumax the Kaiju use the phrase, “oh my Goj.” This is likely a clever play on the first Kaiju, Gojira (get it?). I get the feeling that the comic is saying, “Get it?” to me the whole way through. Another example: in the Kaijumax there are gangs of Kaiju (not making this up) and one of the gangs is the Cryps—get it? After the Crips? After Cryptozoology, which is the study of mythological creatures—see how clever?
Granted we only have one issue to go by so far and I really hope that the author pulls this thing up out of its spiraling nose-dive of death but I’m not sure I would want to read any more issues to find out. Which brings me back to Godzilla’s Revenge. In Godzilla’s Revenge a young boy is bullied at school and by random thieves so he dreams he goes to Monster Island. Monster Island is not a high security Kaiju prison or zoo in this movie. The young boy meets Minilla, the young (annoying) offspring of Godzilla (it’s best not to ask about that since Godzilla is generally not seen with either a mate or even a second adult Godzilla type creature in the movies). Minilla is a being bullied by a Kaiju named Gabara. This movie is terrible. It promises Godzilla but really doesn’t deliver and when it does, Godzilla is not behaving like Godzilla at all. In fact none of the monsters in Godzilla’s Revenge really behave like they should. They are the best example of people in monster suits acting like people. Minilla even talks to the young boy via some form of telepathy. It’s awful. While Godzilla’s Revenge is comprised mostly of stock footage, it is one of the first movies ever to take on the topic of bullying, so it does have a redeeming quality.
Kaijumax does not, as of this issue, have any redeeming qualities. It is a steaming pile of overused and ham-handed clichés. The Kaiju don’t behave like Kaiju. The Kaiju are people in Kaiju clothing. Our nominal hero, Electrogor, is arrested for swimming while Kaiju (get it? Sorry, that one got away from me). He was out getting food for his kids when this happened. Apparently his children have zero survival instincts and react just like humans when threatened. So he spends the entire issue with tears in his eyes (yeah), freaking out about being snatched away from his kids.
This might be a huge morality play except that it beats the reader over the head with it so badly that it’s kind of offensive. We have the Kaiju, some of whom are hardened criminals (eating people, destroying Tokyo, you know) and then we have the peaceful Kaiju who just eat electricity and convert it into U-235 for their hungry kids (like our military industrial complex would let that lie) who are thrown in with the criminals because—bigotry! Then we have the fascist humans who are locking up the Kaiju willy-nilly because it’s their turn to rule the planet without any guff from the Kaiju. Humans are the monsters and the monsters are just ordinary folk. Go watch District 9, it’s better and it doesn’t promise Kaiju that are really just people in Kaiju clothing.
In Kaijumax these Kaiju are not terrifying, they are not avatars of nature, they are not irresistible forces; they are people. When the Kaiju are reduced from forces of nature to ordinary people, they cease to be Kaiju. It didn’t have to be that way. They could have still been Kaiju and sympathetic. The audience senses the sorrow of Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Destroyah when the young Godzilla is killed by Destroyah and Godzilla mourns over losing the only other one of his kind. This does not take away from the overwhelming sense of immensity and inevitability that is Godzilla.
Look, I know someone (Zander Cannon) poured their creative efforts into this comic but I cannot in all good faith recommend it. I need to go read Pacific Rim or something to cleanse my mental palate.