When I do digest reviews for Deadshirt, I skim through a lot of books from mid-level publishers, looking for something that piques my interest enough to be worth checking out. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes I don’t find anything. Monster Motors, by Brian Lynch, Nick Roche, and Leonard O’Grady, was maybe the best find I’ve ever had. From the moment I read the solicit for the second issue, “The Curse of Minivan Helsing,” I was sure it was too good to be true. But after reading the trade collection, I gotta say, it’s not. Monster Motors is very real, and it’s also one of my favorite comic series this year. And lucky for you, IDW has handily collected the initial one-shot and two-issue sequel, Monster Motors: The Curse of Minivan Helsing, in one volume.
The core of the book is that it takes a silly, fun premise (what if Universal horror monsters were cars) and gets an absurd amount of mileage out of it. It opens surprisingly slowly: narcissistic mechanic Victor Frankenstein moves to Transylvania, Kentucky to open up a repair shop in a junkyard he bought online. Everything is going well, until he discovers the junkyard is also home to the ancient evil vampire car, Cadillacula. To fight monsters, Frankenstein must create a monster of his own, and the world sprawls out from there, featuring everything from zombie helicopters to an aircraft carrier witch. It’s all funny and surprisingly high-stakes, without being dark or grim, and endlessly clever.
Lynch and Roche are of one mind when it comes to these characters. Each Monster Motor is exploding with personality, and their varied designs complement their banter beautifully. From Frankenride’s cab-over design and electrode smokestacks to Lagoon Buggy’s compact, energetic frame, the characters are not only rife with visual puns and homages, but they also play off each other in cool ways. Staging fight scenes between cars isn’t exactly easy (assuming the cars aren’t transforming into big humanoid robots), but Roche’s battles are kinetic and exhilarating, with the right level of comedy injected in. Were-car Wheelwolf transforming back into a normal car at a climactic moment was one of the biggest laughs in the book for me, right up there with Lagoon Buggy’s gleeful “When we’re not helping on missions, we get to sleep in cages!” boast.
The dialogue, too, snaps and pops with a Saturday morning cartoon energy. Victor Frankenstein isn’t tortured or ashamed of his creations the way his namesake from Mary Shelley’s novel is, but he’s still egotistical, cocksure, and sometimes an idiot. He’s also among the funniest characters in the book. Watching his plans go awry is often as fun as watching him succeed, and like any good reluctant hero, there’s enough bravery and virtue shining through to make him worthwhile. The parade of Monster Motors is also well-defined, even the few who are mostly teasers at this point. Wheelwolf’s curmudgeonliness and Lagoon Buggy’s optimism make them a perfect odd couple, and I’m excited to see more of Cadillacula’s evil allies.
The word “toyetic” gets thrown around a lot in comics, as well as a similar concept—that a lot of indie books are just pitches for movies or other media. While this has certainly been the case sometimes, I think the idea is uncharitable, especially when books like Monster Motors exist. Roche and Lynch have written a catchy, fun story, and I’d honestly love to see it everywhere. This first volume lays the foundation for not only sequels, but all kinds of merchandise. These designs are so charming, I’d love to see them on TV, in the movies, or on a hoodie I’d wear until the sleeves were frayed. I want a Wheelwolf toy and a Lagoon Buggy ice cream novelty pop. Honestly, no corporate cynicism here: Monster Motors is a fun idea and I want it to succeed.
I tend to like fun, silly stories. As such, my love of Monster Motors is unsurprising. It’s an unabashedly goofy book, one that takes a very basic hook and runs away with it. It might not be for everyone. But if a story where Abraham Van Helsing’s soul inhabits a tricked-out minivan and does battle with the forces of evil doesn’t at least pique your curiosity, I don’t know what else to tell you.
Monster Motors will be released as a trade paperback on July 16th.