Bina’s life is changed forever when a mysterious spirit passes through her and possesses her heart, turning the organ into an external, sentient monster. The heart-monster, whom she names Ayo, is friendly, but the organization Shell who seeks to control this power isn’t. Bina meets up with other children who have body-monsters – energetic Julie whose hair has become a dragon-dog creature, Abel, a runaway whose eye has transformed into a loyal flying protector, and nervous Desmond, whose stomach is now the chipper but bossy Guzzy.
Monster Pulse is an all-ages fantasy comic written and illustrated by Magnolia Porter. It feels strange to label any webcomic “middle-grade,” “all-ages,” or “YA” because these terms are so entangled with marketing and publishing. In a free, online comic it’s hard to apply ideas such as demographics. However, Monster Pulse pulls its influences very clearly from children’s television, especially cartoons from the 90’s onward, that it seems appropriate to label it “middle-grade” or “all-ages.” Monster Pulse fits into the recognizable genre of “kids and their monsters,” popularized by properties like Digimon and Pokemon, though the genre is much older than that. Like those properties, it’s also a team story. Monster Pulse updates frequently enough to allow episodic story telling. While Bina is the most primary character, each of the children will have their own “spotlight episode.” Even secondary characters, such as the main antagonists, get their own chapters. There’s a real commitment to steady character development in Monster Pulse, which makes the comic a rich read. The characters are a diverse group of kids which create genuine conflict between them – Julie’s earnest energy versus Abel’s grumpy stoicism. The children not only have to deal with crazy problems like “oh no my stomach is now sentient” but more mundane and relatable problems like “my parents don’t understand me.” The comic treats these conflicts with the same level of attention, which suits the kid’s worldview. The character-focused chapters are balanced with arc-based ones, focusing on the tension between the children and Shell.
Though I’ve referred to it as Children’s literature, Monster Pulse can get surprisingly dark. Bina’s and Desmond’s monsters are vital organs and if anything happens to their monsters, Bina and Desmond will die. Death is a palpable presence in these kids’ lives. There’s also a pretty brutal death early on in chapter four. Being a completely creator owed comic, there’s the freedom to go as dark as the artist wants despite the rest of the comic feeling “middle-grade.” Though a little darkness often makes a story far more appealing to the youngins. Nothing made me feel cooler when I was 12 then watching Gargoyles. Its gothic imagery and morally complicated villains blew my mind. I mentioned Monster Pulse’s villains earlier, and they are great villains. The middle management scientist Wanda Lulenski, while initially very sympathetic, grows into a more and more compromised and terrifying person. Her boss Dr. Rjinder is a classic cold-hearted mad-scientist trapped in a symbiotic relationship with the monster possessing his skin. The design of the skin monster is one of my favorites of the comics; it covers his body like a flat snake, moving independently. It’s creepy, interesting and very symbolic of the character’s feelings of alienation.
As you might expect, the monster designs of Monster Pulse are a huge standout. Straddling the line between cute and Cronenberg. Every monster design is clever, as are their corresponding powers. Monster Pulse starts out in black and white with very angular art, as the series continues the style evolves. The character designs become rounder and color is introduced. Magnolia Porter uses soft, limited color pallets with colored line work that make every page very coherent and appealing.
Monster Pulse is a really excellent and polished work of all-ages comics, with its focus on character development, beautiful art, and slight dark edge. It updates very frequently.