Pulp anti-hero Ethan Reckless inhabits a sun bleached 1980s California that is full of secrets, drugs, and trouble. The Los Angeles he knows is dirty and brutal, but when you need the kind of help you can’t get from the police, you call a mysterious phone number and Ethan may just help you for the right price. Destroy All Monsters is the third book in this series, but they are all self-contained stories set in different years. Ed Brubaker does a great job in all three books setting the stage for anyone who might be a new reader, so it’s easy to jump in. You can read these books in any order without fear of being lost.

In this story, Ethan and his business partner (and reluctant best friend) Anna find themselves having the first real fight of the relationship. This is important because neither of them are at their best or sharpest and will make some mistakes that will cost them in the end. This book opens with Ethan narrating, “1988 was the year I started to feel old.” He talks about old injuries and wounds catching up with him and how he can tell he’s slowing down. All this is happening as he is running through the movie theater he lives in, the El Richardo, as it’s on fire and he’s desperately searching for Anna. As someone in a gas mask hits him over the head with a crowbar and he blacks out, he wonders if he is really just looking for an excuse for having messed everything up.

Ethan takes us back 4 months to when all the trouble with he and Anna started and also tells the story of how they first met and started working together. (If you haven’t read the first two Reckless stories this won’t stand out at all, but it was nice to finally get some insight on how this odd couple came to be.) It’s tough to be friends with Ethan because he’s a damaged man, literally and metaphorically. He is ex-FBI and was wounded in the line of duty (ironically he was in the FBI to avoid Vietnam and getting injured or killed there). He’s a private eye/wrecking-ball for hire because he washed out of the Bureau and no longer believed in what they were doing. He and Anna get a case that draws them back together when a city councilman wants them to investigate the loan shark developer that destroyed his father and the neighborhood he was trying to improve. Their investigation uncovers a wide web of corruption throughout some of the city’s most influential men. As usually happens in Ethan’s life, something goes wrong, the whole thing goes sideways, and he falls back on survival instincts to get through.

When the Covid-19 pandemic found the comics industry turned upside-down, Brubaker suddenly time on his hands and an idea in his head. He wrote all three Reckless stories with the intention of releasing them all in the same year. These would be complete stories that would arrive as fully formed graphic novels, instead of having to rely on a publisher to release them in monthly installments. You certainly don’t have to read the Reckless books in order, nor do you need to read all three to experience the world. That said, you absolutely should read all three if you enjoy pulp, noir, or crime mystery books.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are, for my money, one of the best creative teams of all time and certainly one of the best teams working today. No one in comics does crime fiction like these two and something about picking L.A. in the 1980s makes this feel different and fresh. I don’t know that I’ve read anything exactly like these Reckless stories. Ethan spends time at the beach surfing, trying to clear his mind, and the art from Phillips (and the color work by Jacob Phillips) is absolutely pitch perfect creating the scene and mood for these moments. You don’t have to look far to find praise for Brubaker and Phillips’s work and it’s well earned. Their work is unique, it’s riveting, and it’s satisfying.

The violence in the Reckless books is usually gun shots and fistfights, but in this book there is more nudity than in the previous volumes. It’s all in service to the story, so while it doesn’t feel gratuitous it also is going to limit the audience this is appropriate for. Some of the other Reckless books deal with drugs, but this book deals more with sex and how secrets can ruin people. I wouldn’t recommend this for the under 18 crowd, but more because the content tends to be about issues they may not be as interested in. Ethan is getting older, having trouble holding his life together, there are also plenty of references to Vietnam and that era which an older audience is going to have a different experience reading. If your adult graphic novel collection doesn’t have any Brubaker and Phillips work in it, you should definitely invest. The Reckless stories are a great place to start and I am looking forward to the next set of these books.

Destroy All Monsters: A Reckless Book
By Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Image, 2021
ISBN: 9781534319240
Publisher Age Rating: M

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Adam

    | he/him Technology Specialist


    Adam is a Technology Specialist at the Way Public Library in Perrysburg, Ohio. His duties include helping patrons understand how to use various library related apps, where he is sure to point out which have access to graphic novels and comics. He curates and has presented on the library's "Beyond Books" collection and takes secret joy in ordering video games as an actual job function. His favorite duty is ordering graphic novels for the adult section of the library, which he feels better equipped for than ordering books on say, transportation. A lifelong comic reader, he still remembers buying X-Force #1 and his mom throwing away X-Force #1. You can find him yearly at C2E2's librarians meet-up complaining to no one in particular about Rob Liefeld's inability to draw feet.

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