Another day, another city for Marcus Shugel-Shen, who’s been moving around the DC Universe since learning he’s the Monkey Prince, son of a Chinese deity. Taking him places are adoptive parents Laura and Winston who are geniuses, but pretty stupid.
Stupid because they waste their intellects as henchpeople for super criminals. They also risk their lives, case in point being when they take a job for one Lex Luthor in Metropolis.
The moral of the story is that a Luthorcorp zap gun isn’t much use against otherworldly demons looking for clones of clones.
Marcus, meanwhile, who doesn’t officially know his parents are stinkers, is on Cloud Something or Other, being taught a new trick by pig-headed mentor Mr Zhu.
When Marcus leaves to meet some new pals in a diner, Mr Zhu is attached by a couple of mystical scumbags on day release from Batman vs Robin.
Marcus’s pleasant evening, meanwhile, is ended when his Dad turns up to drag him away to meet the one man Winston believes can revive his basically dead wife.
As Grandpa Gerard addresses the Laura problem, Marcus notices a superhero in the area. A childhood encounter with Batman has left Marcus hating superheroes…
… then again, he’s a teenager with raging hormones.
The first time I came across Monkey Prince, in the DC Festival of Heroes giant, I disliked him. A lot. He was hugely annoying, with his cocky attitude, and he was so rude to poor Captain Marvel. In his own book, though, Marcus proved not only palatable, but likeable… anyone who can annoy Damian Wayne can’t be all bad. Writer Gene Luen Yang has thrown everything into this series – ancient myth, superheroes, teen drama – and it works. So far Marcus, with powers that include the ability to carry on chatting even when decapitated, has teamed with Batman, Robin and Aquaman and it looks like he’s heading into the upcoming Lazarus Planet crossover with Supergirl.
Despite his tongue hanging out at the very sight of the Maid of Migut (heaven knows why, in that hideous outfit), Marcus looks set for romance with someone else. Having been absent for several issues, Kaya, his pal from Gotham City, calls, and admits to feelings for Marcus. Awwwww.
There’s an overarching storyline involving extraterrestrial demons – they’re the guys out to absorb Bizarro clones – but I’m not great at keeping the mythology straight; I’d be happy for Marcus to simply continue his tour of the DCU with his awful parents, with Mr Zhu hanging around. That is, if Laura is revived. Given who Grandpa Gerard turns out to be – a longtime DC baddie whose original name has never been revealed* – I wouldn’t bet against it.
(And with that it suddenly hits me where Monkey Prince Marcus’s ‘Shugel’ name comes from!)
Matching the energy of Yang’s script is Monkey King co-creator Bernard Chang’s art, which blazes across the pages. The action scenes are powerful, but it’s the emotion written on the faces that really impresses me, from Stupid Winston’s concern for Stupid Laura to Grandpa Gerard’s open contempt for his son-in-law to Kaya’s vulnerability as she opens up to Marcus over the phone. His reactions are lovely too. The demands of the story mean Chang’s Supergirl is terribly stern, but in that one panel in which her face is in repose she looks rather beautiful.
And I like Chang’s interpretation of Tannarak and Jinx, foes of the Phantom Stranger and Titans respectively and currently embedded in Mark Waid’s Devil Nezha storyline which has moved from World’s Finest to the aforementioned Batman vs Robin.
The colours of Marcelo Maiolo are fantastic in their attention to detail, the skin tone modelling is much more subtle than in other comics. And Supergirl, for probably the first time, gets to have nail polish! Veteran letterer Janice Chiang completes the core creative team assembled by excellent editor Jessica Chen, giving us a sterling lettering job… I’m very keen on that demon’s flaming speech balloon back there.
Chang and Maiolo’s cover is cute, I suspect the ‘Monkey King’ on the Daily Planet globe was meant to replace the regular logo but minds changed at the last minute, meaning we have one redundant ‘Monkey King’. Hey ho.
If you’ve not yet tried this comic, give it a go – it’s beautifully crafted, is going to become more important to the wider DC line and the new storyline has a brilliant title – ‘The Monkey King and I’. Go on, read it, and report back here!
* After the fact footnote – I tell a lie, Gerard Shugel first appeared under that name in the excellent Palmiotti/Gray/Conner Power Girl series… there’s a useful recap of the villain’s comic book career over at DC Online. Avoid if you’ve not read Monkey King and don’t wish to be spoiled!