Publisher: 1First Comics
Writers: Matt and Shawn Fillbach
Artists: Matt and Shawn Fillbach
Publication Date: 2017
Pages: 128 pages
Format: B&W softcover
Retail Price: $19.99
Genre: Fast paced comedic horror tale
** Full disclosure: Matt and Shawn Fillbach are great friends of Greg and I but visitors to TGG already know I always shoot straight with my reviews regardless of my friendship with the creators/designers. ***
Following a successful December 2016 Kickstarter crowdfunding run, Matt and Shawn Fillbach’s latest graphic novel arrived in friendly local comic shops on the final day of May. In case you don’t know Fillbachs are possibly best known for their work on Star Wars: The Clone Wars for Dark Horse but hitched their wagons to 1First Comics a few years ago and have since released graphic novels as diverse as the kid friendly Tales of the S.S. Junky Star, the Coen brothers-esque revenge tale Cadaver Dogs of Winter, the six gun shootin’ butt kickin’ action of Captain Freebird: American Prayer, and the short but emotionally powerful Lives. Now the Fillbachs’ latest endeavor is a madcap comedy/horror romp entitled Illuminati Transport.
I always keep reviews like this as spoiler free as possible since I never want to spoil the fun first time viewers or readers can experience with a movie, book, or comic. If I told you all about it what’s the point of checking it out yourself? That said, Illuminati Transport sees the return of Jim Kowalski: OTR trucker and pick up/delivery man for the mysterious Illuminati Corporation. Jim, who initially appeared in Dark Horse’s Roadkill: A Jim Kowalski Adventure, is entrusted to transport unearthly entities captured by the Department of Paranormal Experts (D.P.E.) to their final destination at the Illuminati HQ warehouse. Our man Jim isn’t alone in this task as he’s joined by his pals Geech (a talking dog) and Rico (a G.P.S. enabled ancient crystal skull) with assists from the Illuminati home office too.
Let me mention, although these characters first appeared in Roadkill, you don’t need to have read the previous volume in order quickly come to grips with the goings on of the protagonists. Plenty of backstory is filled in along the way so there’s never the feeling you’ve just walked into a theater only to find you’ve somehow missed the entire first act. This was a bit of an issue I had with the Fillbachs’ Captain Freebird: American Prayer and I appreciate Matt and Shawn crafting this new Kowalski adventure to be friendly for readers unfamiliar their Illuminati universe.
The Fillbachs once again utilize their mastery of black and white illustration to bring a tale to life. Presenting fluidity of motion, linear depth, and emotional range of characters can be mighty tricky without the use of color but Matt and Shawn show they have the medium down pat. The visuals in Illuminati Transport are also much lighter in tone, far less noir-ish, and a touch more cartoonish than in much of the brother’s other 1First work but it plays perfectly well for the story being told.
Speaking of story, Illuminati Transport moves briskly along through its chuckle filled action packed 128 pages. While the reader begins by being introduced a trio of high profile stars of the D.P.E. (or DOPE as Jim refers to them) and their battle with a master djinn, the Fillbachs quickly shift gears to bring in the truly unsung heroes of the Illuminati Corporation: Jim, Geech, and Rico. This isn’t a tale of high falootin’, headline grabbin’ prima donnas but one which tips its cap to the hard working everyman/woman who go about effectively and efficiently performing behind the scenes jobs; all while receiving little recognition and even less credit. At the end of the story it’s the “little guys” who save the day, even if they won’t be the ones catching the kudos or grabbing the headlines.
I found myself chuckling quite a bit as I read Illuminati Transport and the near constant back and forth put downs and chop busting between Geech and Rico is especially noteworthy. The humor throughout also had a much more natural flow and realistic beat than I’ve sometimes seen in Matt and Shawn’s previous comedic work; a few of the jokes the Fillbachs have injected into other stories have occasionally seemed mighty forced to me and landed a flat. Thankfully, the jokes here hit on all cylinders. I do have to note there are a couple of very short spots where the writing seems to hit a snag but never enough to send everything careening off the road.
I should also mention the Fillbachs unleash more swearing than I seem to recall in previous works but it’s all of the PG-13 variety. I wouldn’t recommend this graphic novel fall into the hands of your eight year old but nary an “F-Bomb” is dropped and you won’t read anything you wouldn’t hear on network television after the family hour.
With Illuminati Transport the Fillbach brother have conjured up what I feel is a love letter to the somewhat schlocky, but highly entertaining, B horror/fantasy movies of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. You know the ones; Films usually with moderate budgets and kind of creaky special effects but with ideas so out there or a sense of energy so infectious that, although they may have not brought in a ton at the box office, they later became beloved cult classics on VHS, DVD, or BluRay. Flicks like Big Trouble in Little China, Brazil, or (with much more graphic violence and nudity) Reanimator.
Illuminati Transport is simply a big, over the top, carnival ride of a graphic novel. The art is great, the jokes mainly hit home, there’s plenty of supernatural action and silliness, and how can you not love a huge goat-man splashed across a bunch of panels? Outside of just a few pages which seem to drag, Illuminati Transport is a blast from start to finish and will surely leave a huge goofy grin on many readers’ faces. Just like the ones on my good friends’ kissers below. Okay, well maybe not on Matty’s…