4 out of 5
Let’s first talk about the art. Not that Zander Cannon’s Kaijumax: Season 5 is at all lacking in story, but as I flew through this Season, while concurrently rereading my Usagi Yojimbos, I realized a similarity between Cannon and UY creator Stan Sakai that made me want to highlight the visuals, and how consistently great they are. Think about it: we are now 30 issues in to a series that primarily takes place in a single setting – a prison – and that spans a cast of many, many, many – and yet, to my eyes, has remained visually engaging and sometimes stop-on-the-page gawk-worthy the whole way through. The line that I’m drawing to Sakai is that he’s maintained a similar level of quality, as his rabbit ronin travels through forest and towns that could, in lesser hands, feel indistinct, and yet, decades and 100s of issues on, never do; Sakai is not the most flashy of artists, and so it’s easy to overlook how masterfully designed and paced his pages are, and the tweaks that he does employ to line weight, and detailing, and paneling. Cannon has this same strength. Kaijumax is a lot more sparkly than UY, with its constant barrage of kaiju creatures and its neon color palette, but it’s also not “flashy,” necessarily – Zander’s work leans toward cartoonish, and he sticks to traditional panels quite often, with a somewhat static camera. …Except he doesn’t, at all. Cannon has found ways to differentiate his many characters just beyond costuming – their acting, their speech bubbles, their silhouettes – and the ways in which he chooses to alter his angles and break out of that paneling are, as with Sakai, very precise. I consume Kaijumax rather quickly once an arc has completed, and so I admittedly overlook all of the work that goes in to keeping this so much fun and easy, visually, to read and comprehend, but it’s really an amazing accomplishment.
Season 5 has a cluster of fascinating (and occasionally hilarious, and occasionally quite tragic and moving) plotlines: Pokemon has officially made its way in to the title, with the massive Pikachu gang boss “Pika Don” going on trial for murder, with he (it?) and his / their crew parked in the jail while its in progress; Sharkmon tries to settle in to a hassle-free live as ‘Max’s barber, caring for his sharks and goat; a new, drug-peddling unicorn – a movie review for Puff the Magic Dragon in one issue suggests an influence there – shows up; the balance between prisoner rights and the guards’ officiousness is explored via Sato’s boastfulness post-Season 4; and prison admin Nobuko is panicked to deal with a coverup of a murder, from decades back. While this season, as they all do, works primarily on its own, there’s so much going on here that it can start to feel like you’re playing catch up, a bit, and some emotional travels – particularly Sharkmon’s – thus come across a little rushed. That said, Cannon uses Pika Don’s trial to focus / parallel everything, and that really draws things in to focus by the end of the season, with a pretty bold final issue that, as we’ve seen before, blows things up in a way that prevents this title from just being a sequence of references and kaiju jokes. …We’re not lacking in those, of course, and there are a hefty amount of belly laughs regarding the way Pokemon is fit in to the series. However, the last years of real-world events (post-Trump) have been factored in to the book, and it’s really well handled stuff, not force-feeding us opinions, rather bringing those realities in to the Kaijumax world, and seeing how they affect its different plotlines.
Interestingly, this title that I would’ve pegged as a rather niche thing has become a go-to for the possibilities of the medium. I’m looking forward to rereading it, and even more than that, adding it to that shortlist of books you can foist upon new or non-comic readers, as prime examples of the format.