Buy This Book: Paul Tobin And PJ Holden’s ‘Gunsuits’
When your comic is called Gunsuits, there's really only one way it can go. I mean, yes, it suppose that it could be about white-collar executives in the firearms industry, but unless those executives are supplying weapons to the forces of Cobra, I have to imagine that's going to be a pretty hard sell. No, it pretty much has to be a book about heavily armed giant mech suits, preferably with chainsaws for hands, and on that front, Gunsuits most certainly delivers.
But in the two issues currently out, as part of a push into comics by the publishers of Famous Monsters magazine, Paul Tobin and PJ Holden are going a little deeper, taking that same story of robot suits against interdimensional invaders story that we've seen time and time again, and building something new around one of the most fun and fresh twists that I've read in a good long while.
When you're talking about the plot of Gunsuits, the elephant in the room is, of course, Pacific Rim, the movie that's going to cast a kaiju-sized shadow on pretty much any American version of mechs-versus-monsters that we're going to get for the foreseeable future. A lot of the same broad strokes are there in terms of plot, from the interdimensional monster attacks to the desperate government facing a countdown to extinction unless there's a last-minute success, and, of course, the robot suits themselves --- although in the interest of splitting hairs, it's certainly worth noting that the, uh, gunsuits of Gunsuits are a much more modest 20 feet tall than those towering jaegers.
Point being, if you liked Pacific Rim, the start of Gunsuits is probably going to feel pretty familiar, but that's not really a knock on what Tobin and Holden are doing here. I mean, there's an entire genre based around giant monsters fighting giant robots, so it's not surpising that they're drawing from the same inspiration, at least in terms of the setup. It's where these stories twist that plot to bring something new that makes it really work.
With Gunsuits, it's the idea at the core of the story that really sells everything else, and it's presented in a way that hooked me immediately. At first, the opening scene of Cassandra Potts --- the pilot of the title's mech and the latest addition to the long, long list of Cassandras in comics --- looking over disastrous footage of mechs taking on monsters seems like she's either reviewing a recording of a mission gone bad or watching something that's going on out in the field while she's back at the base, and neither one of those is actually true.
Instead, she's watching a live feed from another dimension, cracking open the infinite multiverse to try to find out if there's any version of herself out there that stood a chance against the monsters, and repeatedly finding out that no, there isn't.
That alone makes for a pretty engaging premise, and obviously, the story starts to take shape when she does find another version of herself who actually is succeeding and surviving against the interdimensional incursion, but that's a heck of a way to start a story.
The idea of a person having to watch herself die over and over again to try to figure out how to survive while people are making notes on the failure is classically over-the-top sci-fi, but using that to show us a character being confronted with the idea that even in a universe of infinite possibilities, there don't seem to be any where you succeed makes the whole thing incredibly easy to relate to. Potts is someone whose confidence has been eroded by all the potential failures she can imagine, left to worry if there's even a chance for success.
It's the second twist, though, that really seals the deal.
See, as revealed at the end of the first issue, the monsters in Gunsuits aren't actually monsters --- not in the Godzilla sense, anyway. They're humans, the product of a world where history took a different path millions of years ago, where cavemen never learned to shape stone and metal into tools, but instead got really into shaping flesh and bone into horrifying "bio-mech" monstrosities that were just waiting to kick open the door. It's that idea of competing versions of humanity that slips in and makes the most of the dimension-hopping premise, and it's one that's really refreshing.
Even with all that going on, though, as horrifying and capital-S Serious as it can get, it never quite loses its inherent goofiness either, and a lot of that can be laid squarely at the feet of Holden's art. He is, after all, drawing what are essentially giant goofy action figures with battleaxes and chainsaws for hands fighting big weird monsters that, at least for one fight in the second issue, have gigantic dangling testicles that can be booted for a quick victory:
It's that undercurrent of slapstick that keeps everything from getting quite so dire, and Holden's art has an almost plastic quality to it that works, both for the sight gags and those weirdly amorphous monsters. And considering that the third issue is teased with a house ad that goes full-on '50s B movie with the promise of a giant robot suit fighting mutant flamethrowing cockroaches, I'm going to guess that's going to end up being a recurring theme.
It's certainly a little shaky in spots, but the good ideas in this comic far outweigh the bad, and the conversations between versions of Potts from two different dimensions are incredibly engaging, with distinct voices emerging despite the fact that it's essentially just an elaborate take on the lead talking to herself. The end result is a book that hits that rare sweet spot of being genuinely compelling on a character level --- something that's always been one of Tobin's great strengths as a writer --- while still having fun action and the screwball humor that comes along with the premise, and it makes for a solid read.
Right now, the first two issues of the four-issue miniseries are on sale, and if you haven't checked it out yet, give it a look. It's got a lot of good stuff going on.