Digimon: Digital Monsters #1
January 2, 2017
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl
Be prodigious to each another.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Time to start the new year off with another bit of nostalgic fun from the '90s. There are many nerd wars that can be recalled: Star Trek vs. Star Wars, Joel vs. Mike, Sega vs. Nintendo. But the one from the late '90s that still has occasional embers is, of course, Pokemon vs. Digimon.
(The title for the series Digimon: Digital Monsters is shown)
Linkara (v/o): So, for those unfamiliar, what are Digimon?
(A clip of Code MENT is shown)
Mao: What do you mean you pooped yourself to death? Fucking Tamagotchi!
(Cut to a clip of a Digimon in a handheld electronic device)
Linkara (v/o): Well, to be accurate, when they started, they were virtual pets in the same vein as Tamagotchi: little devices containing a creature that you had to feed, to put to sleep, and blah, blah, blah.
(An image of a Tamagotchi is shown)
Linkara (v/o): Tamagotchis are apparently still around, but the heyday of them being a fad was the mid-to-late '90s.
(Comparisons between a Digimon and a Tamagotchi are shown)
Linkara (v/o): The Digimon virtual pet was meant to be marketed towards boys, especially different from Tamagotchis by the fact that people could fight with their Digimon.
(Now cut to footage of the Digimon animated series)
Linkara (v/o): In 1998, work began on a tie-in short film to promote the toys, but this was then upgraded to a TV series that was brought over to the USA by Saban, who you might recall for some...
(A clip of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is shown)
Linkara (v/o): ...other series they made; probably never heard of it.
(Cut back to Digimon)
Linkara (v/o): In the wake of the success of Pokemon, there were a lot of "-mon" shows brought over to the U.S.: Digimon, Monster Rancher, Mon Colle Knights, and those were just the Japanese ones. I heard of American-produced shows that tried to cash in on Pokemon's collection aspect, to resounding failure. But the big competition was Pokemon vs. Digimon, with many accusations of one to the other about ripoffs and who came first, and of course it never really mattered. In the end, especially with the benefit of hindsight almost twenty years later, there are some definitive winners and losers. In terms of games, Pokemon won out. It's not necessarily that the story or the games themselves were better, but Pokemon has continued to outsell the competition during this time without any difficulty. However, where Digimon won through against Pokemon was in its story, or at least the anime story. Even back then, Pokemon had a problem with filler episodes, episodes that existed pretty much to show off a Pokemon, get kids wanting to play the games or whatnot of those Pokemon, but their actual significance to the ongoing story was minimal. And that's assuming it was showcasing something new and not just some stupid festival honoring something we had seen before or whatever. Basically, episodes existed to fill time until Ash caught a new Pokemon or the ongoing story of his quest continued. But Digimon Adventure, as the first season was called in Japan, actually had an ongoing storyline where there would be a beginning, middle or end, sequel seasons notwithstanding. There were episodes that seemed like filler, but then filler characters would come back, comic relief got killed in a noble sacrifice, or a friend they had met early on became an ally against the villain of the storyline. The characters underwent growth and change, while Ash is still ten years old after twenty years, and every time he gets close to his goals, the reset button gets smashed. Hell, the situation itself in Digimon is more exciting because it's much more dangerous and deadly.
Linkara: Which, of course, is really helped by the dub team adding in jokes and puns into everyone's dialogue that weren't in the original.
Linkara: In any event, the premise of the first season of Digimon is that seven kids go to summer camp and are mysteriously transported into the digital world. However, while a lot of '90s media depicted cyberspace and virtual reality as full-on other dimensions despite that not being the case, the digital world is another dimension entirely. It's just in this dimension, code and data makes up the building blocks of their universe. The seven kids are each partnered up with a Digimon and discover devices on them – ostensibly the virtual pet devices, because toys – that allow them to change into more powerful forms. There is of course the larger narrative of a prophecy, the various villains they have to contend with, why these seven in particular, but all of that is for a different day. While there have been various Digimon manga stories, this is a rather unique situation. Dark Horse acquired the license to adapt Digimon into a comic, doing so for twelve issues. It only covered the first arc of the show, but it is a weird sort of situation having an anime adapted into an American comic. How does that even work?
Linkara: Well, let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Digimon: Digital Monsters #1" and see how they pulled it off.
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has the Digimon theme playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): The cover's okay. It shows off not only our seven main characters, but their partner Digimon... in more ways than one... Yeah, I should probably explain this. Much like Pokemon will grow and change into more powerful forms through "evolution", Digimon have "digivolving" to advance to more powerful stages. The differences are that Digimon have more evolutionary stages than Pokemon Standard 3 plus Mega, plus more often than not, digivolving is temporary. Oh, sure, over an extended period of time, they can hold that more advanced form longer and longer, even making it their default form, but for the purposes of the show, they usually stick to their tinier versions. So, at the bottom, we have what's referred to as their in-training forms, while up top, they're in their rookie forms. And of course, they neither line up with their partners properly, nor with their rookie forms on top, so good job keeping things synergized across the cover, Dark Horse.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We open on a shot of the Earth.
Tai Kamiya: (narrating) That's home, Planet Earth.
Linkara: (as Tai) The rent sucks, but at least there's plenty of parking.
Tai: (narrating) But, I'm not sure that's where I am right now.
Linkara: It's the year 2000. (leans in close to camera) Do you know where your children are?
Tai: (narrating) It all began when the climate went completely out of control. The rain forests dried out and cities, which are normally blazing hot, got super cold.
Linkara: Tai, for the millionth time, the oven is not a city!
Linkara (v/o): The leader of the kids, or Google-Head, as the main focus is usually referred to, is Tai, sitting in a tree, expositing to us about all this. He says he wasn't aware of the weird weather shenanigans – until it started snowing. At summer camp. In the middle of July.
Linkara: So... your summer camp is in Minnesota?
Tai: Oh, by the way, my name is Tai.
Linkara: (as Tai) Good talking to you, tree. You're a great listener.
Narrator: And so it begins...
Linkara: (waving dismissively) No, nonononono, we're still a few months off from me looking at a Babylon 5 comic.
Linkara (v/o): We're quickly introduced to the other six members of our group. First, there's Sora, with her giant hat; then Matt, with his giant hair. And don't assume I'm exaggerating about his hair seeming noticeable. Even Tai comments on it.
Tai: (narrating) And Matt is too cool. Look at that giant haircut.
Linkara: (as Tai) My God, the Yaoi fanart between the two of us (clenches fist) will be glorious!
Linkara (v/o): Then there's Izzy, who is our resident nerd and smart person; Mimi and her giant hat, a pink cowgirl hat; Matt's little brother T.K. and his giant hat... seriously, it's supposed to be a baseball cap, but it's got layers, and the brim of the hat is tiny when you do finally see it... and finally, Joe, who you would think would be the nerd, given he has the glasses and is wearing a sweater vest in the middle of summer, but no, he's just... average, which is why I think I like him so much. He's kind of the straight man to all the insanity they're about to encounter. But yeah, they're all staying at this cabin when a blizzard hits. T.K. runs out, not caring about the weird-ass weather as long as he can build a snowman.
Matt: Hey, T.K., be careful! Slow down.
Linkara: (as Matt) We don't actually know if snow will slow down Jason Voorhees, so we have to be cautious.
Sora: Burrrrr! It's freezing-- and I didn't bring a jacket!
Linkara: And yet you brought gloves. To summer camp. Actually, now that I think about it, why do five of our main characters have gloves?
Linkara (v/o): Izzy remained inside on his computer, accurately predicting what most of us would be doing in ten years.
Izzy: The storm's making a mess of my infrared Internet connection.
Linkara: (as Izzy) Oh, Napster, you'll always be there for me.
Linkara (v/o): They look up at the sky, Izzy finally joining them as they behold something glowing amidst the clouds.
Izzy: Yeah. What is it?
Linkara: (dramatically while reaching out) This is God! Sorry, but I'm more of a Bakugan fan!
Matt: The sky is like, short-circuiting!
Linkara: Can somebody reset the breaker on the sky?
Linkara (v/o): A bunch of fiery objects fall down from the sky and land in front of the kids. Suddenly, little Tamagotchi devices float out from the crater in front of each of the kids.
Sora: What're these?
Izzy: My guess is some sort of miniature remote digital apparatus.
Linkara: So... old-school MP3 player. (points to camera) Bet you could fit twelve songs on that thing.
Linkara (v/o): All of a sudden, a massive wave of water rises up from the ground and swallows up our heroes.
Linkara: You know, I just realized that this a much better summer experience than anything that occurred with the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids.
Linkara (v/o): Tai wakes up with a small blob sitting on his chest. It has kind of rabbit-like ears and exposed fangs.
Linkara: The evolution of a Tribble is weird.
Linkara (v/o): The thing, referred to as a Koromon, knows Tai by name and says it's been waiting for him. I don't think we ever got an explanation for why they knew that or how a big wave of water actually transported them to the digital world, but it did and here we are. Tai is soon joined by Izzy and and his own partner Digimon, Motimon.
Tai: Another one? What are they?
Izzy: I believe those digital gadgets somehow have taken on an actual life form.
Linkara: (as Izzy) I've got to say, this is not how I expected my sex robot to be realized, but I'm flexible.
Tai: Ya think? It's weird.
Linkara: Says the kid with hair as big as his torso.
Koromon: Nothing is common in Digiworld.
Linkara: (as Koromon) Except for popup ads. Those are especially common here.
Linkara (v/o): Tai and Koromon climb a tree, hoping to use a telescope Tai has on him to see if he can figure out where they are. He can see an ocean, but nothing familiar about the summer camp. However, before he can investigate any further, he spots something coming right for him: a beetle known as Kuwagamon. It soars up and slices off the top of the tree, making the two fall out. Koromon expels some kind of pink goop at Kuwagamon, blinding it.
Linkara: Considering its entire body is a head, where exactly did it conjure up the bubble gum bile that it shoots out.
Linkara (v/o): Also, just FYI, Digimon can poop, which raises all sorts of questions about their physiology, especially being, you know, digital creatures.
Tai: You're pretty brave--for a little guy.
Izzy: Hey, Tai, he's heading this way again!
Linkara: (as Tai) Oh, crap! Um, uh... Koromon? Brave, brave Koromon, you ever heard of the fastball special?
Linkara (v/o): Motimon leads them to a hiding spot inside of a tree. Like, literally inside of it. The tree is a projection that they can pass right through. Inside is just a weird wireframe cylinder. This is, again, one of those things that's never really explained properly, especially since a lot of the other trees are not fake projections of the like. They wait inside of it for a bit, but then hear Sora calling out for them to come out of hiding. And... Oh, geez, uh... Yeah, there are a few spots where the artwork is kinda... iffy. I'll get into it more at the end, but needless to say, some of the faces are a bit... off-model (...such as Tai's inexplicable gape-mouthed reaction).
(Linkara is shown imitating Tai's gape-mouthed reaction)
Linkara (v/o): Sora introduces them to her partner, Yokomon.
Linkara: (as Sora) Some other Digimon keep yelling that she broke up the Beatlemon, but I don't know what they're talking about.
Linkara (v/o): Also, Sora's face. (...which is also wide-mouthed in surprise)
(Linkara is shown imitating Sora's expression)
Linkara (v/o): They're soon joined by Matt and T.K., who are very happy with their own adorable little partner Digimon, including Tsunonmon, which is basically Koromon with a huge spike on its head instead of bunny ears. Joe, however, is not as pleased with his friend, Bukamon.
Joe: What's wrong with you guys? Don't you see this creature hanging off me? And those creatures standing right there! They're everywhere! What are they?
Linkara: They're yours at $29.99, plus tax! International shipping options are available!
Digimon: We're Digimon! Digital monsters!
Koromon: We're kinda cute.
Tsunonmon: And very loyal.
Yokomon: With beautiful hair.
Motimon: Or maybe no hair at all.
Bukamon: We can be funny! Ha!
Tokomon: And adorable!
Linkara: I didn't even have to make that joke a second ago. These things are marketing themselves.
Linkara (v/o): The last person missing from their party is of course Mimi, who quickly joins them while running and screaming from Kuwagamon.
Linkara: What your problem, Mimi? It's just your partner Digimon wanting to meet you.
Linkara (v/o): Actually, her partner, Tanemon, is running alongside as Kuwagamon once again swoops over our heroes.
Joe: Will this nightmare never end?! My mom is going to want a complete and total refund.
Linkara: Look, Joe, the summer camp brochure promised an adventure like no other. I fail to see the false advertising.
Linkara (v/o): Tai wants to stay and fight Kuwagamon, but Matt rightfully points out that the thing is huge and they're not exactly in any shape to take on a giant death bug. They run off, but find themselves on the edge of a cliff, cornered by Kuwagamon. The partner Digimon leap into action to defend our heroes, revealing that T.K.'s Tokomon has some hidden talents of its own.
(Cut to a clip of Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
Tim the Enchanter: (pointing out the Killer Rabbit) That rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer! He's got huge, sharp... He can leap about... Look at the bones!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): They manage to knock Kuwagamon back, but the Digimon are not exactly in great shape. Neither is Izzy, who has forgotten Motimon's name.
Izzy: Tokomon, what's wrong?!
Linkara: In his defense, with the partner Digimon, there are technically fourteen characters in this story, so keeping track of them all can be a bit tricky.
Linkara (v/o): That is further not helped by what happens next: as Kuwagamon prepares another attack, the partner Digimon decide once again to fight, standing together as... uh, a swirl appears over them and pink energy beams shoot down at them.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Power Rangers)
Zordon: Too much pink energy is dangerous!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): And with that, the seven Digimon digivolve into their new forms. Yeah, remember trying to keep track of fourteen character names? Well, forget half of those and now remember another seven. To be fair, it's easy enough to learn their names, as the show frequently has the characters address one another by name, and they make sure to keep them all distinct and with unique characterizations and personalities and whatnot, but this is something that could have very easily been botched up. For the sake of brevity, I will not be sharing their individual names for now, only to say that with the seven now in a more advanced state, they're able to drive Kuwagamon off.
Tai: They made vapor ware out of him!
Linkara: So... you're saying the Digimon didn't actually have to do anything because it never really existed?
Linkara (v/o): And so, our comic ends with our heroes embracing their partners.
Text: Look for more Digimon comics wherever comics are sold!
Linkara: (dramatically) Where are they sold? (shrugs) I don't know, just watch the anime. (holds up comic) This comic is just... okay.
Linkara (v/o): Not surprisingly, it's just an adaptation of the first episode. Writing-wise, it does a pretty decent job of it, too, introducing our heroes and actually giving just enough personality to them as to not make them seem flat to not bog down the narrative with everyone. After all, it'd be really easy for characters to be left by the wayside when your cast is so big, but the book juggles everyone pretty well, and the partners don't need to be the focus in the first outing beyond introducing their abilities. There are unanswered questions, yes, but they're pretty much the same unanswered questions the show had. The artwork? Hmm... Well, it's not terrible, but it's not good either. A for effort. For the most part, the characters resemble the people they're supposed to, but there's the occasional facial expression or distant shot that shows the seams. It basically looks like a very decent fan comic. I'm having a tough time narrowing down what the problem with it is, but if I had to name one element in particular that bugs me, it's the eyes. Aside from one or two exceptions, all the kids' eyes have been simplified so that their eyes are just black. Even in closeup shots, where we would be able to see more color and detailing, it feels... off.
(Cut to the Pokemon comic strip that Linkara had looked at)
Linkara (v/o): The style reminds me quite a bit of the Pokemon comic strip I briefly talked about last year; feels a bit rushed, but not that off.
(Cut back to the Digimon comic)
Linkara (v/o): Another thing is in how the digital world seems so... bland. A lot of it is just a generic forest and a crappy light blue gradient background.
(Cut to footage of the anime)
Linkara (v/o): The cool thing about the show's digital world is just in how the backgrounds were this weird collage of paintings that didn't really fit the aesthetics or design of the main characters, giving it a very surreal otherworldly appearance that helps establish the idea that they're not in their own dimension anymore.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): But here? Nah, let's just slap some gradient on them and call it a day.
Linkara: Next time, Patreon-sponsored review of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girla trade from ''modern'' Image Comics, just show we can show off that, yes, the company got waaaay better after the '90s.
(End credits roll)
Sorry if I got some of character voices wrong. Going by what I remember many years later.
I could point out that Digimon is pretty explicit about them going to the digital world on August 1st and not the middle of July, but I don't think we need to be THAT pedantic.
(Stinger: A clip of the Digimon anime is shown: Tai holding up Koromon)
Koromon: My name's Koromon! And we're... partners!
Tai: Koromon? That means... "talking head"?
Koromon: (nodding) Hmm!