Monkey Law by Brad Hawkins, reviewed by Bill Duncan

Brad Hawkins’ Monkey Law is an excellent example of the kind of genre-hopping that webcomics makes possible. One part social-political commentary, one part funny-monkey stories, Monkey Law is an occasionally awkward marriage of seemingly disparate parts, that delivers a powerful punch.

After a brief hiatus from regular updates earlier this Fall, Hawkins has recently returned in fine form, inking the adventures of Monkey Angst and his room-mates. Like many webcomics creators, Hawkins has the best of intentions when it comes to updating, but can’t help but to run into “life” from time to time.

When everything is running according to schedule Monkey Law updates three times weekly (on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and tries to strike a balance between “real-world” current events, and the social drama that ensues when you put four monkeys (and a sheep) in a house together. At its most engaging, Monkey Law brings us into the world of resistance and apathy inhabited by its characters – a world that is often too much like our own. At its most effective it is the politically-charged blunt-force instrument of its creator. Where Monkey Law sometimes flounders is in its hesitation to stick to one of those two strengths. Breaks in the story can be somewhat distracting, though as stand-alones they can be very funny and filled with bite.

Hawkins establishes the political overtones very early on in the strip with the beginning of Year One, where he addresses the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan, the December after 9-11. When seen in the perspective of the day’s events, it’s probably not unreasonable to see Monkey Law as Hawkins’ reaction to 9-11, or more specifically, to the social and political landscape of post-9-11 America. Like Monkey Angst, Hawkins seems to be struggling with some of the decisions being made on his behalf in Washington. At the same time, Hawkins seems painfully aware that the morality of these events and decisions is meeting with a wall of apathy back home.

The humour in Monkey Law is often wry and somewhat cynical, but the inspiration is often all too real. He seems to see every decision, intentional or not, as potentially politically-charged.

The world of Monkey Law keeps trying to withdraw from the rawness of the "brave new world" post-9-11, and often that comfort comes in the use of drug-use (or abuse). In the end though, there seem to be few escapes, because the kind of numbness that these things afford the monkeys also brings its own kind of destruction.

Hawkins’ comic seems to be achingly aware of loss – particularly those parts of the media blanket under which he and so many of us grew up – and each of these little asides seems like an obituary for more innocent times.

Like "real life", the world of Monkey Law is full of conflict and contradictions, but underneath its asides and departures, Monkey Law is about grief, anger, frustration, cynicism… and maybe a little bit about hope. The world the monkeys inhabit is stupid and cruel, but somehow they endure together, and help one another when they can. The monkey house may be mad, but the monkeys can still make a difference to one another when they step out of their apathy. It may not be much, but it’s the shred of hope that Hawkins seems willing to give his characters, and it may be the only thing we really have when all is said and done.

Monkey Law still seems to be evolving, and that is good news for fans. Unlike some creators who outgrow their comic, Hawkins has continually pushed his comic to places he wanted to go, and he has stuck with it through the difficult doldrums. Having kept the ball rolling this long, there’s little doubt that Hawkins has something to say, and there’s little doubt that it’s a message you are familiar with if you’ve been alive in America in the last two years (or even just a little North of there).