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Monkey vs. Robot and The Crystal of Power

I'm a neophyte fan of the small press, and my appreciation grows for it with every collection or original graphic novel that I pick up. If you travel outside of the selection offered up by the Big Two, comics will always surprise and delight you with the differentiation in genre and the oft-overlooked talents of the small press creator pool.

So I "travel" as much as possible among the racks of my local comic shop to find some Small Press gems (or at least a rough-cut diamond or two). I happened to stumble across James Kochalka's sequel to his uber-acclaimed Monkey vs. Robot, The Crystal of Power. I never read the first one, but I was assured by Dave (my own personal Comic Book Guy) that it wouldn't matter.

And it didn't.

For those unaware, the story is simple: robots are collecting samples of plant and animal life and bringing them back to the Mother Computer for analysis. One of those samples, a wily monkey with a stick, doesn't like this one bit, goes monkey-crazy and smashes the power crystal for Mother Computer. Supporting herself on her last diode, Mother Computer orders her robot minions to go out and find a new crystal. When the faithful lumps of steel locate one, it just happens to be buried in a monkey burial ground. Enter Monkey Who Wields Stick and his ticked-off simian buddies. Let the battle for the forest begin!

This is such a hard book to review, at least for me. I don't consider myself to be much of an intellectual (call me and educated plebian) and Monkey vs. Robot can be reviewed in two ways: the fanboy way or the metaphorical-representation-of-the-struggle-between-nature-and-technology way.

From the fanboy perspective, Kochalka delivers what he promises, which is monkeys and robots beating the living daylights out of each other. The story itself is inconsequential to the visual aspect of these two comic cliché classics doing battle. And Kochalka delivers a solid visual story, as there is little dialogue in the book to move it along, save for the broken English of the monkeys, or the stilted techno-babble of the robots.

The format of the book helps Kochalka's art effort: it's square with the panels broken up into no more than four sections at most. This allows the story to flow rather quickly and easily from page to page, which makes for pretty exciting visuals.

Kochalka's unique drawing style is also interesting. It's very simple and looks very much like an incredibly toned down Matt Groening mixed with a less detailed Mark Crilley flare (you might know Crilley from his acclaimed children's series Akiko). This book is also one of the few books I've seen that has chosen to ink in a color rather than straight black. The entire book is inked in a maroon/purple, adding a muted, serious aspect to the otherwise zany premise of the book.

Of course, the premise is less zany when considered from a metaphorical point of view. Kochalka seems to be displaying for the reader the constant struggle between nature and technology. We are a world that relies on technology to keep us alive, yet, that same technology is killing us ever so slowly. The monkeys are the natural world, struggling to survive in the face of spreading technology (think urban sprawl, deforestation, biological warfare, etc…). The robots are everything we hate but can't live without: computers, cars, nuclear power, and the problems they bring.

Also, in the scene where the robots desecrate the monkey burial ground in favor of finding the crystal, we see Kochalka warning the reader that advances in technology can mean a loss of spirituality, tradition, and culture. I'd like to thank the English Department at Marywood University for all them fancy words I just used.

It's fair to say that Kochalka pulls off both of my interpretations with panache. And since Top Shelf Productions is selling this baby for only $14.95, it's pretty affordable. Either buy it for the monkey-squashing, robot-bashing fun, or buy it to write a scholarly essay about. But buy it. You'll thank me. Well, probably not me….Buddha maybe?

As always, the opinions expressed by Mr. Sparling are not necessarily those of Fanboy Planet. As a result, we have dispatched a crack team of monkeys with sticks to beat him senseless. Nothing metaphorical about a monkey butt-whuppin'.

Robert Sparling

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