The struggle of two teenagers to join the security of a local gang introduces us to a world in which humanity is driven underground by giant monsters and a great cataclysm. Read on for our review of “Giants” #1, which contains some minor spoilers.
Written and Illustrated by Carlos and Miguel Valderrama
A cataclysm of unknown origins unleashed a race of gigantic monsters whose presence has driven humanity underground.
There, two orphans discover that the most dangerous monster is ambition, which unchecked, will grow until it devours you!
• An original vision from two powerful new talents!
• The Valderrama Bros. first American work!
There aren’t enough kaiju comics. You’d think, with the limitless special effects budget of comic books (artist’s time and talent notwithstanding) we’d see more giant monster stories depicted, especially with their recent resurgence in the movies. Dark Horse and the Valderrama brothers hope to rectify that issue with their new post-apocalyptic survival series, “Giants.”
Like all good kaiju stories, the driving force of the narrative isn’t the monsters themselves, but the human lives pushed to their limits. “Giants” #1 manages to find the balance that a lot of big screen efforts fail at, and present a gripping human core that presents us with the emotional connection needed in order to drive up the stakes when the monsters show up. We follow two young boys as they struggle to find their place in the middle of a gang war, taking on a dangerous mission in order to be accepted into the Bloodwolves and gain security, respect and (relative) safety.
This is the first western series created by Carlos and Miguel Valderrama, and it’s an extremely impressive debut. Through these teens, we’re introduced to the wider world without relying on exposition or stilted dialogue. The earth has been hit by a new ice age, brought on by a catastrophic event and bringing with it giant, horrifying beasts that claim the surface for themselves. This drives humanity underground, which is where we start our story. It’s a pretty simple setup, but the creators place all this naturally in the background because the central focus of this opening issue is the two protagonists, their struggles and their desires.
Their search for Ambernoir, a purposefully ambiguous McGuffin desired by both rival gangs, drives them to the surface world and into the path of the giants of the title. The book, therefore, is essentially split in half, with the first section filled with the world-building of humanity’s underground sanctuary, and the back half devoted to an exhilarating chase sequence on the Earth’s surface. It’s not as clear-cut as that, mind you: there’s plenty of action in the first twelve pages or so, including a thrilling rooftop confrontation, and plenty of emotional depth in the latter half, as our heroes fight for their very lives and leave the book on a cliffhanger.
In “Giants” #1, scale is everything. When we’re underground we’re presented with smaller panels, close-up layouts and claustrophobic structuring, opening up only when the boys leap off a roof and are struggling to regain control. As soon as they find themselves in the frozen wastes of the surface, however, the book opens up, relying much more on bigger panels, full body shots and a wider focus on the world around them. It’s not a new technique but it’s perfectly done here. Likewise, the color palette shifts from dark, oppressive reds and browns and oranges underground to a colder one filled with blues and whites. The darker palette is grim, claustrophobic and dangerous, the lighter palette is more expansive but also harsh and unforgiving. The monster design is exactly what you’d expect from deadly kaiju: alien, beastly and filled with sharp edges. It’s proof that humans are no longer the dominant species in this world, and the “camera angles” chosen by the Valderrama brothers accentuate that: we never see the monsters from anything other than ground level, or at least from below.
The art has a touch of manga styling to it, at least as far as action sequences go. The pacing and choreography rely on controlling the speed of the reading, throwing in blur-lines and structuring every page so that it drives your eyes forwards through the panels (borders angle sharply downward when the characters are sliding down a rooftop, or rise vertically as they climb a ladder). It’s expert pacing throughout, actually, and the action rarely lets up. It’s only when the boys reach the surface and marvel at the new world around them that there’s a (very) brief respite.Continued below
“Giants” #1 follows in a grand tradition of Kaiju fiction and manages to pull off the tricky balance of human heart and giant monster set pieces in a way that feels natural and, most of all, rewarding. The monsters take a back seat for the most part, which makes their appearance all the more gratifying, and combined with the time well spent on building your connection to the human cast, makes them all the more terrifying when they do show up. This is, at its heart, an adventure story, one filled with the struggle for validation and search for identity that all coming-of-age stories share, except the twist here is the fantastical backdrop and challenges our protagonists face. There’s also a sense of childlike naivety to the book, which one hopes isn’t sacrificed for ‘grim and gritty” as the series continues. “Giants” has genuine threat, and by the end potentially deadly consequences, but it’s also wildly fun and entertaining, and hopefully it will continue to embrace the fantastical adventure of this debut issue.
Final Verdict: 9.4 – A brilliant debut: fun, thrilling action with a genuine emotional core.