Universal Monsters: Creature from the Black Lagoon Lives! #1 Advance Review: A Study of the Monstrous

The sophomore outing of the Universal Monsters line is another thrilling success.

Universal Monsters: Dracula set a remarkably high bar for the unexpected launch of a comics line based, quite specifically, upon the imagery and stories of Universal's iconic Golden Age horror films. It delivered a twist upon the 1931 classic – reinterpreting the adapted narrative to service Martin Simmonds' stunning and surreal artwork. Universal Monsters: Creature from the Black Lagoon Lives! #1 wisely opts to go its own way, leaning into the strengths of a creative team culled from the best examples of modern creator-driven comics to bring new life to, perhaps, the single best designed monster from Universal's collection.

The first issue seizes upon familiar elements from 1954's Creature from the Black Lagoon—an American protagonist; set in the Amazon rainforest; chasing a dangerous mystery—while developing an original narrative that is independent of (but could co-exist with) the original film. Readers are introduced to Kate, a journalist chasing the story of a serial killer to Peru and beyond the bounds of good sense. She's an immediately fascinating anti-hero; her addictions and death wish provide a wide self-destructive streak to a driven reporter seeking justice. It's possible to imagine this premise being compelling as a noir tale unto itself even before the introduction of the creature before the issue's end.

Juxtaposing the very human killer Kate is chasing with the Creature spoken of by native inhabitants evokes an obvious comparison between monstrous appearances and true monstrosity. The gendered violence and terrifying experience of drowning, evoked so effectively in both Kate's narration and disorienting flashbacks, makes the serial killer a far more frightening figure within the issue. It also creates a permission structure for readers to sympathize with the still mysterious Creature.

Even though humanity may provide this issue it's scariest material, the Creature's appearance on the page is still its most visually compelling. Matthew Roberts, paired with colorist Dave Stewart, evokes the natural world exceedingly well anytime Kate steps outside of town. A sequence featuring nothing more than a heron and fish on one page is majestic in how it captures the motion and vitality of both those animals and their setting. This was a skill regularly showcased in Manifest Destiny, but is differentiated here by a shift to the flora and fauna of the Amazon. Stewarts' colors also create a distinct mood in Roberts' pages with more defined and pressing shadows serving to make the sprawling Amazon seem claustrophobic at points.

Both the Creatures' introduction and inevitable splash page make for masterful executions in familiar forms. Readers will likely find themselves flipping back and forth to find the Creature's first appearance after they eventually spot him, and it makes for a very tense reading experience Roberts' assures readers he has mastered the Creature's iconic design as well with a promise by the final page that readers will see much more of them in the issues to come.

With monsters of all sorts taking refuge in the fascinating and intimidating terrain of the Amazon, Creature from the Black Lagoon Lives! possesses the still-outstanding aesthetic and fascinating premise of its source material. But the choice to update the narrative with new perspectives and antagonists proves exceedingly wise in this introduction, refocusing the series on modern storytelling by some of the best writers and artists operating in comics today. The result is a reintroduction to the Creature bound to lure in both fans of the original film and new audiences taken by the irresistible monster on its cover. It's another clear success for Image Comics' Universal Monsters line.

Published by Image Comics

On April 24, 2024

Written by Ram V and Dan Watters

Art by Matthew Roberts

Colors by Dave Stewart

Letters by Matthew Roberts and Dave Stewart

Cover by DC Hopkins