I actually had to go back and re-read Garth Ennis’ previous “Phantom Eagle” miniseries, surtitled “War Is Hell,” to refresh my knowledge of the main character. That’s because Karl Kaufmann comes off in this story as an arrogant, self-entitled little shit that deserves every indignity heaped upon him here. As opposed to the previous miniseries where he came off as a little clueless and self-absorbed before maturing somewhat in the end. On re-examination it turns out that Karl’s current characterization isn’t too far off from his previous one. The main difference is in the tone as “War Is Hell” was Ennis in full-on war story mode, while “Where Monsters Dwell” is him laughing it up at the expense of the adventure stories of comics’ Golden Age. You know, the kind where a heroic white dude finds himself in a savage land out of time, hostile natives on one side, vicious dinosaurs on the other, and a helpless dame at his side depending on his machismo to see them through.
That… is not what we get here. Karl is behind the narrative curve at every step of this story and manages to survive only through the good graces and quick thinking of Clementine Franklin-Cox. Not only is she a woman with more guts than Karl, but she knows her way around a machine gun and has certain “tendencies” which leave her singularly well equipped to deal with the tribe of blonde warrior amazons that the two encounter along the way. It’s a skewering of tropes that are desperately in need of it and a good deal of fun. While the cover may sport a “Parental Advisory,” Ennis’ more outlandish tendencies take a back seat and allow for better focus on humor and characterization. He’s joined by frequent collaborator Russ Braun, and it’s remarkable to see how well the two are working together at this point. I’ll always think of Steve Dillon as Ennis’ greatest artistic partner, but Braun is starting to give him a run for his money with characters who emote convincingly on the page and storytelling that is always easy to follow. I imagine that there are those who aren’t going to want to read a story that skewers manliness this thoroughly, but that’s their problem. “Where Monsters Dwell” is good fun for everyone else.