Here’s an interesting one. Marilyn’s Monsters is the story of Marilyn Monroe, but set in an alternative reality. Here Hollywood (or Holywood, as it’s called in this version) is built out of a forest camp, developed when a troupe of travelling entertainers took root after people stopped going to live shows and started flocking to the cinema. Through a mixture of a little magic and a lot of exploitation, Holywood makes its mark and becomes the central hub of movie-making, barely developing beyond a camp-in-the-woods physically, but surrounding this humble core with the people and resources needed to produce movies that are literally piped around the world. In pipes. Like oil.
Norma Jeane Baker is attracted to the glamour of the industry and breaks in despite a speech impediment, thanks largely to her ability to lie back and think of her career while those holding the power take whatever they want from her. Norma is literally torn apart by Holywood and put back together in the form of Marilyn Monroe: a beautiful Frankenstein’s monster. They can manipulate her body, however, but they can’t change the Norma on the inside. As she becomes the movie idol she always wanted to be, she sees the emptiness of her existence and the horror of the path she took to get there, and despairs for the young women who now hold her in the same high esteem that she once put her idols. Her only solace is in the numbing effect of drink and drugs. The rest is (slightly altered) history.
It’s a great tragedy told in an interesting way, but is there a line crossed here? Marilyn was a real person and, while this version allows us to plunge deeper and fantasise a little about the very real horror that the actress must have endured, does it belittle the real tragedy by adding its twist of magical realism?
To be honest, I’m torn. This fairytale version takes an edge off the narrative that, particularly in the light of recent #MeToo events, is doubly disturbing. Marilyn’s own powerlessness when it comes to protecting girls that idolise her or are caught in abusive situations is perhaps the scariest thing about the book and, again, is something that has particular resonance. It rams home the strength of character that must be required from victims of this kind of thing to step forward and draw attention to the actions of monsters so that, hopefully, it can be halted and justice can be done.
Tommy Redolfi’s art is great: creepy, dark and charting Norma’s transformation and downfall with stunning, compelling illustration. Here the grim fairytale springs to life, with dark characters orbiting Marilyn’s incredible source of light.
The book ends up as a dark version of events but whether it’s any darker than Marilyn’s actual reality is hard to grasp. Whether this story is exploitation in its own right is probably down to your own interpretation but one thing’s for sure, in the light of recent Hollywood scandals, there’s no doubting that it still has a lot to learn about the way it grooms and treats its talent, and that it never seems to run out of monsters to slay.