Guest post by BunkmastaB. For an audio version of this article, click here.
Check out the indie rack at any Local Comic Shop and you’re likely to find any number of books described as “it’s X genre meets Y fandom”. Seriously, you can’t avoid it these days. Want post-apocalypse meets indie rock? We’ve got that. Interested in a haunted house crossed over with Tokusatsu/Power Rangers? Got that too. It makes sense, it’s a way to bring familiar ideas into new settings, to play with your favorite toys in a different sandbox. These days, Kaiju or Japanese-style giant monsters are one of the most popular candidates for the genre crossovers, with titles like Kaijumax (traditional Kaiju), Ultra Mega (Kaiju Body Horror), and Jenny Zero (Kaiju and burnt out party girls) filling long box after long box of current titles. With so much competition, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. For my money, though? No one in comics is doing it better than James Patrick. His secret? His stories may have big monsters, but he’s not using them to tell a Kaiju story.
James Patrick isn’t new to the comic scene. For over a decade he’s been writing spots for DC on titles like Green Arrow and Harley Quinn, but his recent work for Aftershock Comics has really been putting him on the map. In 2020, he put out The Kaiju Score with artist Rem Broo, a book described as “a Quentin Tarantino film taking place in some corner of a Godzilla movie.” It’s got all the hallmarks of a classic heist book, from assembling the crew, to dealing with a double cross in the middle of the job, to the job looking like it’s going to break down when something goes wrong. As you can guess from the name, it features big monsters fighting. In the hands of a lesser writer, this pairing could lead to a formulaic and forgettable book, but Patrick does something clever in his writing of this story, namely not splitting his storytelling focus across the two genres. Make no mistake, this is a crime book through and through. It just happens to take place when two giant monsters are fighting.
By keeping the focus on the heist storyline Patrick wanted to tell, he keeps the story moving forward at a rapid pace that never gets bogged down by trying to introduce too many elements from both sides of the genre. Kaiju aren’t the focus of this book, they’re the setting. By doing so, we get all the benefits of the Kaiju genre (getting to watch big cool monsters fight each other) while not sacrificing any overly elaborate exposition that slows the pace down. When Marco is explaining the plan to his crew, the Kaiju in it are no different than the changing of a guard shift would be in one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels (but it looks a heck of a lot cooler). By focusing on the heist storyline and not getting lost in the genre crossover, The Kaiju Score is able to tell a complete crime story, feature some absolutely fantastic action set-pieces, and set up for the sequel (Kaiju Score: Steal From the Gods, #1 comes out April 13) in just four issues. It’s what all good genre mashup comics should aspire to.
If we’re following Patrick’s earlier quote about The Kaiju Score being a Tarrantino movie, it’s Reservoir Dogs. His follow-up series Campisi: The Dragon Incident (also from Aftershock, this time with art from Marco Locati) is Pulp Fiction. Once again, the book is a genre mashup that mixes crime and monsters. The crime in this, however, shifts from heists to organized crime; the monster is now a Dragon. Once again, Patrick uses the Dragon to differentiate itself from the other crime books on the shelf and lure readers in with the promise of a fantastical Dragon story (because, after all, Dragons are dope). Once again, Patrick shows a pretty perfect understanding of writing a genre mashup mini-series and keeps the focus on the titular Campisi, a “fixer” for the local crime family, going to work to “fix” the problems to his boss’ operations. That problem he happens to be fixing this time is a dragon occupying the town. Maybe that sounds new to you, but I guarantee you it’s not the first crime story you’ve read of a powerful new force trying to muscle in on the local organized crime operation. It should, however, be the next you read.
I had the privilege of meeting James Patrick at a local con. (we’re buds now, he told me to call him Jim. You can’t call him Jim, though, only I can) While picking his brain/yelling about how much I loved his books, I asked if Kaiju Score and Campisi take place in a shared world. He sort of shrugged and said there’s no reason why they couldn’t, but it’s not really something he’s overly concerned with. With a lesser writer, you might think they were being lazy and flippant with their world building to not know if these two worlds exist concurrently. With Patrick’s focused approach, I think he’s right to not concern himself with whether these are the same or different settings. It’s this tightness of story in a genre-mashup comic that has made all of James Patrick’s books blind buys for me forevermore. If your favorite genre is Good Comics, maybe he should be a blind buy for you too.
BunkmastaB, aka Ben, has been reading comics since the mid 90s, with a few years long breaks here and there. His favorite character is The Question and he can’t WAIT for you to read it. For more content from him, check out his occasionally updated YouTube channel at https://youtube.com/channel/UCq9bXouWa4kONKHnCGtZ5aw.