Identity Stunt #4

 

Writer: Joe R. Khachadourian

Artist: J, Briscoe Allison (artwork), Juancho Velez (colors) A. J. Scherkenbach (Lettering)

Publisher: Markosia Enterprises (December 2018)

 

Here comes the final act of the film.

Flip your collars up, push up your sleeves and tighten the straps on your cut-off gloves.

If you’ve got a toothpick or a match-stick in your mouth, bite down hard on it.

Adjust your aviators or your ray bans and check your clips.

It’s GO time!

If you’ve just hit the play button on your VCR after a long pause, the shit has hit the fan.

Sami Nasser is knee deep in crazed acolytes. His lady love, Tracy, has joined the dearly departed, and his daughter Alyssa is in the menacing clutches of Dominus Smith as he stands at the cusp of seeing his plans come to fruition. Sami has back up though, Beatdown and Knuckleball are right in the mix. Making this issue an all-in brawl as well as a race against the clock.

Will Sami save his daughter in time? Will Beatdown stop Dominus for good? Isn’t Sami Beatdown? Did dominus lie to us all? Will Knuckleball get his own spin-off?!?!

If you want answers to the big questions in this review, look elsewhere. Spoilers are evil, and Sami Nasser said to always punch evil in the face.

If you want nitpicking and criticism exit stage left as well. No series is flawless. But if you’re not down with the action-packed fun and insanity by now you need to wake up, go back to the start, and read it again. Hell, grab it in trade form while you’re there. This series is a rare thing. An easy read with depth and punches in equal measure. It wears its tropes and influences on its sleeve and charms you into strapping in for the ride.

Joe Khachadourian shows, from the first page, that he’s a writer who can consistently deliver character and dialogue with honesty and authenticity. He can also deliver on some sharp twists and turns and has maintained mastery of pace throughout this series.

Beatdowns hard-boiled dialogue really would make Frank Miller’s god damned All-Star Batman smile.

Briscoe Allison needs to do a team book next. He needs to be on all the books from now on. Making all the money to boot. I was impressed early by his Maduereira-like style and his detailed eye (honestly there are so many Easter-eggs to watch out for in this book), but this issue also makes a strong case for his gift for panel layouts and sequential story-telling powers.

The movie literacy of this series has been one of my favorite things. There are A-team references and Butch and Sundance lines to spare in this issue. But their use in a story set in Hollywood’s stuntman scene, in a series that is an impressive entry into the buddy/action genre, are deployed with brains and precision.

Yes, there are clichés running rampant in Identity Stunt. But clichés become endearing and stand the test of time for a reason. The creative teams employ of the clichés in this issue show that they understand that.

But there’s also originality born from exploring these clichés. Knuckleball both encapsulates and benefits from this particularly. When they make a movie of Knuckleball, my favorite asshole in a uniform, the tagline must be “oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me…”

The ending is tight enough while still leaving a few loose threads for the sequel.

Everyone knows these types of films are made to have sequels.

Lethal Weapon. 48 hours. Rush Hour. Even Bad Boys. All the best ones should have sequels.

Catch your breath boys.

Cauterize your wounds and hit us with Identity Stunt 2: Stunt Harder, soon!

 

Doomsday Clock #7

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Gary Frank (pencils/ inks), Brad Anderson (colours) Rob Leigh (Lettering)

Publisher: DC Comics (November 2018)

 

In no way is this issue of Doomsday Clock a jumping on point for the series. If you’ve just joined the action then all I can guarantee you are gorgeously rendered illustrations, sharp dialogue, and a lot of questions. That goes double for you if you have no idea of the source story this series builds on. Watchmen (the 1986 series that deconstructs super-hero storytelling) is such a watershed moment in comic book lore that it extends beyond the medium. Doomsday Clock is a series that integrates the characters of the Watchmen universe into the current world of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. Delivering it to readers garbed in equal measures of mystery, noir, and realism.

The issue opens with a condensed history of the original Green Lantern, then expands out to unite all the key players introduced by the series thus far. Saturn Girl, Johnny Thunder, and Rorschach (all characters of questionable sanity) are met by Ozymandias (also someone whose sanity is unstable). These four then rescue Batman and The Comedian (who you could also say are both at least a little insane) from the torturous clutches of The Joker, The Mime, and the Marionette (so insane that I feel I owe the others an apology).  Dr. Manhattan disrupts the gathering and whisks some characters away. He reveals some shocking truths and leaves the arc of each character upside down and in disarray. What we get essentially, is a smart, inverting, and entangled display of Joseph Campbell’s refusal of the call.

I mentioned the gorgeously rendered illustrations and I emphatically stand by that. Gary Frank has been drawing comics since the early 90s. He has never fallen below excellent. His clean lines and comedic expressions eventually developed into a realistic style, instrumental in controlling storytelling pace. He conveys emotion with a sense of purity often overlooked in comics. You forgive the book its continued delays if the reason for them is so that Frank can tug on one more heartstring or make that last hair on the back of your neck stand to attention and salute.

Geoff Johns, honestly the torch bearer for DC superhero mythology, re-establishes that he is a brilliant writer. Layered, constantly innovative, and without limits. This isn’t just hyperbole or pandering to an industry heavyweight. Geoff Johns breathes love and veneration into every detail, every word, of these characters. He bows courteously to the original Watchmen series, treating it with the reverence of someone entrusted with minding a Faberge egg. But he also builds on its mythology, explores the psyche of today’s society, and works beautifully to exist both inside and outside of the comic book medium. The book feels like it comes from the same Reaganomics-driven-post-Nixon climate that Watchmen was born from, yet it also exists simultaneously in our world today.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you can jump on to Doomsday Clock with this issue and find yourself in the middle of something special. A legitimate event comic.

If you do, you’ll put it down. You’ll run to wherever you get your comic book fix from and pick up the previous issues of the series.

Hurry, before it’s too late.

Before the Doomsday Clock hits midnight.

 

Deadly Class #35


Writer: Rick Remender

Artist: Wes Craig (pencils / inks), Jordan Boyd (colours)

Publisher: Image Comics, Inc. (June 2018)

 

Do you cringe at the memory of the late 80s?

If you’re not a fan of that decade’s movie tropes; smash- mouth action, over-the-top violence, and deliciously bad stereotypes, then stay away.

If you read it despite my warning, then you’re about to be converted. Baptised in blood.

This is the conclusion to the four-part opera of violence that has been Love Like Blood.

The kids of Kings Dominion are on the run and fighting to stay alive.

What’s Kings Dominion?

It’s the Hogwarts for the criminal underworld that this series centers around. The handful of students it focuses on are the Breakfast Club with guns, knives and deep criminal tendencies.

The Love Like Blood storyline sees the cast cornered like rats in Mexico trapped in the crosshairs of a yakuza power struggle. The issue opens with a showdown between original cast members (and previously presumed dead) Marcus and Maria and main series villain Viktor (Ivan Drago’s steroids on steroids). Last issue’s bare-knuckled, broken-toothed, beat down has reached a climax with Marcus primed to shoot Viktor dead. But in a surprising turn of events he instead reasons with Viktor. A very raw conversation follows about duty and whose footsteps we choose to follow in as we build our own identities.

Following this, Marcus and Maria link up with the rest of the students in the nick of time, saving them from crazy hillbilly Brandy, only to again face imminent death at the hands of the yakuza. The outcome of the face-off sees life lost, trusts broken, fences mended, and the characters leave more scarred and broken than before. Does anybody walk away from this story unscathed?

This is a series where the stakes are always sky high and out of reach. While there’s not really been any significant lull in the two-plus years’ worth of issues, the conclusion of Love like Blood is another peak for the series.

The theme of forgiveness and the hints of redemption and sacrifice in this story don’t just play with our emotions. They sadistically torture them. The heart and earnestness in the writing, amidst the blood and betrayal, is a testament to how well-crafted the characters are and how much agency each is given to speak with.

The pitch of the action is at scarlet fever for the entire issue. It’s matched by a pace that is at cardiac event levels. It’s unbearable and at the same time impossible not to be utterly transfixed.

I cannot talk about Rick Remender’s writing and Wes Craig’s separately. They work in perfect synchronicity to elevate each other. The sheer trauma conveyed in the story is a product of this. Is it on the faces of each character? Or is it in their voices? It’s THAT hard to call.

Jordan Boyd’s colours, however, do deserve a spotlight. The colourist adds so much to the story with such a simple palette. It comes across as so virtual, so tangible and hard-hitting, that you’d swear your knuckles were just as bruised and battered as the characters by the end.

Bruised and battered. That’s exactly how this issue will leave you.

Bruised and battered and begging for more.