Horror, urban fantasy and occult fans, take note: there’s a new player in town and it kicks arse! Department of Monsterology: Monsterology 101 has to be one of the best debut trades I’ve read in a long time. The team of Gordon Rennie (script), PJ Holden (line art), Steve Denton (colours) and Jim Campbell (letters) reads like a who’s who of top British comics talent and together they have created a wild ride into the weird and creepy.
This volume collects the first four issues of Department of Monsterology plus the prologue, which is a story in and of itself. It also presents a new tale, The Trouble With Harry, explaining the origins of Professor Harry Wilmington (who is listed in the Department’s accounts as both “personnel” and “equipment”!) and collects some of the original character designs. Fans of PJ Holden’s art will love these as they give a glimpse into the development process of the characters, which can be a fascinating story all of its own.
Opening with, essentially, an audit on the Department, we are expertly introduced to the main players in the story via an overview explanation of the three teams the Department runs: Cryptozoology & cryptogeology; Parapsychology, mythology and the occult; and “Carter team” (which immediately piqued my interest given that Randolph Carter was H.P. Lovecraft’s author avatar in his weird tales, so I was immediately expecting fun things from this team). This opening tells the reader everything we need to know to get us hooked but not enough to make us feel like we know exactly what’s going to be going on in the story. It’s brilliant work from Gordon Rennie.
The opening also gives us a fantastic preview of the mayhem and weird designs we can expect from PJ Holden and Steve Denton. The monsters we see are grotesque, the characters are wonderfully designed and immediately identifiable from one-another. The colours are suitably bright where needed while grim and murky in other places, giving a real visual feel for the different environments the three teams work in. This is top notch work.
It’s not just all monsters and creepy things, however. There’s a lot of excellent comedy and references to the monster & occult genres, too. Rennie has really done his homework on this and it’s clear the story is a labour of love for him. I’ve already mentioned the Carter reference but you can also expect to see hat-tips to famous writers of the past such as August Derleth (the man responsible for keeping H.P. Lovecraft’s work in print) and Lord Dunsany (grandfather of the fantasy genre and one of the proto-weird tale writers). In the opening of chapter one, the Challenger team’s boat is anchored at the exact co-ordinates of R’lyeh, home of Cthulhu; so if you know your Lovecraft, you might think you know what’s coming next.
Although many of the creatures encountered by the teams are straight out of literature and cinema, this is by no means a by-the-book horror pastiche. The story is intriguing in and of itself; there are twists and turns that will keep you hooked to the end and plenty of chuckles along the way. The characters are as well realised in terms of their personalities as they are visually distinct, so you’ll quickly develop a feel for the team as people.
If there’s one problem with this story, it’s that the antagonist group – the Lamont Institute – aren’t as well fleshed-out as I’d like. There are good indicators to their past and it’s clear they are going to get a lot more detail later on but as it stands, they feel a little flat in this collection. That’s essentially the only problem here, however – the rest of the book is a thrill-ride from start to finish.
Overall, Department of Monsterology: Monsterology 101 is an exceptional book that should appeal to all horror, occult and monster fans. Look out for it when it hits the shelves on 8th October or order direct from Renegade Arts Entertainment.