Home > Comic Reviews, Reviews > Kaijumax: Season 4, #1-6

Kaijumax: Season 4, #1-6

The cover to "Kaiju Max: Season 4, #1"Kaijumax: Season 4, #1-6
by Zander Cannon.
Oni Press
Rating: Teen +

For the past four years, Zander Cannon has quietly been creating one of the best comics on the shelves today. Kaijumax envisions a world which is part giant monster movie, part prison drama, and follows the lives of its ensemble cast of giant monsters and those who guard them, as they struggle to cope with prison life. Drawing inspiration from documentaries, prison dramas, kaiju (giant monster) movies, and live action Japanese superhero TV shows, Cannon has created a series which deals with questions revolving around the prison system, punishment vs. redemption, racism, drug addiction, and the fallibility of humanity. While the previous three “seasons” of the series have been focused on the male branch of the titular prison, Season Four shifts its lens to the women’s prison, while continuing story arcs for several of the guards from previous seasons.

New comers to the world of Kaijumax be warned, don’t let the cartoonish visuals of the series fool you, this series deals with some surprisingly dark and relevant adult issues in blunt and sometimes disturbing ways. Parental responsibility, systemic racism, sexual exploitation, economic inequality, abusive relationships, mankind’s self destructive tendencies and a host of other heady topics underlie much of the series story. At first the artwork and character designs, which often feel like a mashup of a Godzilla movie and Pokemon, may seem at odds with the material, but it often functions to emphasize the themes and issues being dealt with. In one sense, it echoes the better aspects of manga story telling, with the simpler, less photo-realistic style allowing for more expressiveness with regards to emotions and character interactions. It’s a style which allows Cannon to utilize a full range of emotional visual cues, including body language and highly expressive eyes. One upsetting example of this ability within Season Four comes when one inmate is giving birth within the prison medical facility. Naturally, things go wrong because she’s an alien being from another universe, but Cannon conveys such an intensity of emotion within the prisoner’s eyes, in addition to touching upon real life issues such as prisoners being restrained while in labor, that a sequence which could easily be highly comical comes across as a tense, uncomfortable, and worrying moment.

A page from "Kaijumax: Seaon Four, #6"

A page from “Kaijumax: Seaon Four, #6”.

Other such instances pervade Kaijumax, and indeed Season Four wonderfully combines Cannon’s love of all the genres with clever moments of social commentary. The warden and her main staff, for example, are portrayed as a group of Super Sentai heroes (think Power Rangers), complete with combing robots. The warden approaches the work with an eye towards rehabilitation and attempts to treat the prisoners humanely, yet she is still viewed with distrust and anger by those she’s imprisoning. Further, more militant members of her staff see her forgiving attitude as a sign of weakness, something which ultimately undercuts their ability to function as a group, which is literalized by the adverse affects it has to their ability to function in their combined, giant robot form. This recalls current debates surrounding the treatment of prisoners and the fundamental mission and purpose of our prison system: rehabilitation vs. punishment.

While addressing such themes and issues are incredibly important, Kaijumax’s real hook lies in Cannon’s ability to deliver a strong emotional core for the series. In the case of Season Four, that comes in large part through the desperate attempts of the prisoners and guards to find a place for them to belong. In some instances, this leads to more pain and suffering, such as with the guard-turned-prisoner, Dr. Zhang. Imprisoned after the murder of an abusive partner, she finds herself welcomed into a prison gang which seems supportive on the surface, but after her crime is revealed she finds herself even more isolated and alone than before, and in even precarious circumstances. In some cases, this quest even leads to brutal and disturbing self-destructive behavior, as embodied by the nihilistic drive at the center of Goat’s tale. A kaiju of the Lovecraftian variety, Goat’s story is shockingly tragic and emphasizes the internalization that comes from being trapped in an endless cycle of abuse. It’s not all doom and gloom however, as Cannon does leave open the possibility of redemption and ends Season Four with an amazingly touching and uplifting scene that holds the promise of redemption and the hope for a better future.

With Kaijumax Season 4, Zander Cannon continues to connect real world issues with humanizing emotional content thanks to use of giant monsters! While kaiju films have a long history of political content, and even modern kaiju films often have political relevant messages, it’s rare to see the genre used to focus on an issue so inherently human. Not only does the series continue to examine ideas surrounding the prison system, law, justice, and cycles of abuse, but it does so in an incredibly entertaining manner. Thought provoking, moving, and fun, Kaijumax: Season Four is not a series to sleep on.

Kaijumax: Season 4, #1-6 are available now from Oni Press.

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