World Comic Book Review

20th April 2024

Miss Medusa’s Monstrous Menagerie #1 (review)

Writer/Artist : Paul Hanley

Artist : Matt Frank

Publisher : Unlikely Heroes Studios

Year : 2021

Monsters are either seen as an evil to burn with fire or as the unmistakable projection of an upside-down point of view, characters that show us that what is on the inside is not matched by the ugliness (and the perceived danger) on the outside.

This sympathetic approach, then, has become part and parcel of those who wish to highlight how the outcasts also have their very own rights, among which the right to be loved (and to love) and the right to live in peace. Tolerance is the idea around which stories are told, and more than once are we reminded that the real monsters could be those we call “humans”, thus creating a strong (sometimes too obvious) wordplay regarding the adjective “humane” (some monsters are more humane than humans, so it seems, while some humans are more inhuman than those who are not part of biological humanity).

Monsters, anyway, have usually been used with great results by writers and artists, and we feel – perhaps – more attracted to ugliness and darkness than to beauty and clarity. It must be something connected with our own curiosity, the joy of knowing something that, theoretically, should be barred from our world.

Monsters abound, then, in Messrs Hanley and Frank’s Miss Medusa, although it’s not just them: there’s a plethora of figures that range from the innocently magic to the blatantly gruesome, at least if we take their outer aspect into consideration. The theme, here, being that of mythical creatures, the result is that the readers are presented with many characters they might recognize because (a) they are part of modern folklore, geography and history being no barrier whatsoever, or (b) they are strongly connected with obscure (or semi-obscure) tales that are part of the readers’ cultural background.

The creators manage to keep everything under control and stop “a lot” from becoming “too much”, over-saturation being the very problem that is here deftly avoided. It could in fact be quite simple to just show us an infinite number of mythical creatures to have us go “I-recognize-that” (or, conversely, “I-do-not-know-that”); by choosing a more modest approach it becomes apparent that the book’s creators have a firm and solid grip on how to structure an introduction.

Structure itself is the key word. It cannot be denied that the overall rhythm of this first issue dangerously veers, from time to time, to an overabundance of information, yet it never becomes too heavy a burden. On the contrary, what we are given, both through words and through images, is well calibrated: as odd as it might seem, the uneven pacing does not come off as deafening and chaotic, but as a mixture of musical forte and piano that show us how elastic the passing of time can be if the writer and the artist put effort into what they want the reader to feel.

There is little denying, then, that the experience of reading this first issue is, from this point of view, quite satisfying. The dialogues too follow this pattern, and a page with just a few words can suddenly be followed by an explosion of balloons without putting at danger the rhythmicality of the work.

The solidity of the art, both in its most aesthetic – and static – aspect and in its sequential – i.e. dynamic – juxtaposition of actions, manages to reproduce the musicality we feel through the pages, as if more than just a story what we are being presented with is a concert.

Here, perhaps, is where we are left wondering: there is not much that lets us know what Miss Medusa is going to be about, that is, what kind of readers will take most pleasure in reading it. The first issue simply introduces us to this world, managing to give us all the information we need in a few balloons; the structure, once again, is solid. Yet, what kind of genre the book is going to be categorized under remains a mystery.

This is not something negative per se, as what it leads us to is trying to understand where all this is going to go to; our curiosity is piqued, we want more, and we’ll be back for the second issue. This very act of being left wondering, then, is here employed not to scare readers away, rather as a caveat, a sign to be recognized when buying this first issue: it will leave you wanting more, which is good sign, but, at the same time, it might leave you feeling unsure as to what you have just read.

We can’t but hope, then, that the solidity of the structure, of the art and of the dialogues (along with the characterizations of the inhabitants of the circus) is going to be matched, as it seems, by a finely woven narrative that manages to resonate with its audience.