Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trade Waiting - Mixed Martial Arts Special

In the modern era comics are such a diverse and all encompassing medium that it’s easy to forget where, particularly in the world of western comics, their roots lay. That’s right, in depression, war, and the All-American punch in the face. The effect that the punch in the face has in superhero comics, the main genre of comics in America, is not to be under estimated. Just take a look at some of the most important comic book covers in the last seventy years. Action Comics issue one has an image of Superman readying himself to punch a criminal in the face with a car, Captain America Comics issue one has Cap punching Hitler in his stupid moustache, most Jack Kirby covers have one of his characters jumping off the page trying to punch you, the reader, in the face. It can be argued that as a species it’s in our very being to enjoy watching a fight. That’s why Jason Statham films regularly top the box office charts and Paul Giamatti films do not, regardless of the formers height and the latter’s considerable skill. The thing is all the examples above are fiction. How does it actually feel to be a part of a real, scheduled fight? And why would you do it? Most importantly, how would someone utilise this real world fighting to tell a compelling piece of fiction. In recent years, two comics have been released that seek to answer that question by focussing on the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, a sport that is gaining in popularity on a daily basis, yet approach it in completely different ways. What are they and how did they fare? Find out after the jump, or as UFC commentator Mike Goldberg says, here we go!

Written by Blair Butler
Art by Kevin Mellon
Letters by Crank!
Published by Image Comics

Oren Redmond is a man whose life is in a downward spiral. Like so many in their twenties, Redmond fell into his job rather than actively sought it out. Now stuck in a middle office purgatory, he decides that he needs to make a change before the claws of clerical life finally sink in for good. Deciding to join the mixed martial arts gym that his brother, a semi famous local fighter, frequents, Oren begins the long road to becoming a professional fighter taking on the nickname ‘Rooster’ in the progress.

The world that these characters inhabit isn’t the dream world that superheroes or even Hollywood feel good tales like Rocky reside in. This is the real world and Heart’s greatest strength is allowing stark reality to creep in around the edges of the story. We see the hard work that these guys go through on a daily basis to train for fights, but we also see what the blood, sweat, and tears provide, with Oren looking and feeling better and soaking in the adoration being a local celebrity provides. It’s not all good times though as the feeling of euphoria doesn’t always last and Heart shows that losing a fight can be an incredibly devastating feeling to experience.

Unlike me, a proud East Londoner with no knowledge of American television hosts past Letterman and Jon Stewart, the name Blair Butler probably means a lot to you. Famous for doing telly stuff on G4, Butler is also a proficient writer and does amazingly well in getting the finer points of the sport across to the potentially uninitiated. It helps that she is writing about a subject that she is interested in for sure, but a writer with a lesser vision of what they wanted to get across would have resorted to Rocky style ‘against all odds’ clichés. What Butler does instead is show how win or lose, if you work hard at trying to achieve your goals you will feel more content as a human being, even if you do take a few punches to the face along the way. Butler also excels in giving each character distinctive voices and personalities, in particular when it comes to Oren and the other members of the gym, using each member to characterise the potential glories and pitfalls that being in any competitive sport provides.

Kevin Mellon, last seen collaborating with future Marvel superstar Dennis Hopeless on the intelligent retelling of the Cupid story, Lovestruck, adopts a slightly different style for Heart. Possibly due to the fact that Heart is a black and white comic, Mellon goes heavy on the ink wash and in turn gives the book a sense of motion that was imperative for a comic that details the fact paced world of mixed martial arts. Equally adept at both the quiet moments and the not so quiet, Mellon’s choreographing of the fights is a joy to behold, making you feel every punch, kick, knee, and submission that Oren both performs and falls victim to. His character designs are also top notch, making the action easy to follow.

Verdict – Buy It

If you are a fan of mixed martial arts this book is without a doubt a must buy that doesn’t mean it’s for fans of the sport only, as Butler and Mellon do everything they can to make Heart accessible and entertaining. By grounding it in the reality of the local scene rather than the bright lights of the big show, Heart makes you believe that even you can change your life with a combination of hard work and perseverance and ultimately, as any fan of combat sports will tell you, that is what it is all about.

Sulk Issue Two: Deadly Awesome
By Jeffrey Brown
Published by Top Shelf

Taking a completely different route to Butler and Mellon’s Heart; Deadly Awesome is about one fight between middleweight veteran Haruki Rabasaku and light heavyweight prospect Eldark Garprub as they duke it out in what is essentially an extended fight scene in a very loose analogue of the UFC, the SCFCL, (or Superior Cage Fighting Championship League.). More than that, it is a taste of what to expect from a big pay per view fight as we are shown everything from the glitzy pre fight montage to the commentators hyping up the fight to even a splash page showing the tale of the tape, (essentially a run down of both fighter’s statistics and record.)

For three rounds the two fighters go at each other and as this is a work of fiction, Brown makes sure that this is the best fight you could possibly experience with both fighters giving it their all and taking turns to gain the advantage. To keep the fight on display from becoming stagnant to the reader, Brown employs every move and technique that can be used within the confines of mixed martial arts to full effect. We get to see flurries of punches and dirty boxing, flying knees and elbows, throws and Greco-Roman style grappling, and some fine use of Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, often seen as the keystone for all modern mixed martial arts.

Jeffrey Brown, in terms of creativity and vision, exemplifies what a modern independent cartoonist should look like. Equally adept at telling incredibly personal autobiographical comics as he is telling tales of robots shooting each other with lasers, Brown’s comics refuse to be categorized. His love of mixed martial arts is evidently on display as his knowledge of the sport is clearly top notch, and he doesn’t take liberties with reality, showing you what the sport can be when at its best. His respect for the fighters is also apparent with neither fighter being a crazed knuckle head, instead showing them to be noble athletes that have an immense respect for each other. That’s not to say that Brown doesn’t bring his trademark humour to the book. There are a few notable chuckle worthy moments, particularly when he uses thought balloons to show what the fighters are actually thinking during the fight, and also when he playfully mocks the corner men for stating the obvious. Brown’s line work is also of a high calibre, managing (with a fairly simple style) to keep what is effectively a fight in a confined area looking interesting whilst still being able to inject bits and pieces of visual humour into the book. He also uses panel layouts inventively, highlighted by a page of vicious ground and pound where a full splash page is cut up in to twelve smaller panels with each panel depicting a fist in movement, giving the whole page a great sense of movement.

Verdict – Must Buy

By only showing the fight and nothing else, Brown has boiled the sport of mixed martial arts down to its essence and because of this, made Deadly Awesome a book that is accessible to all. Fans of the sport will applaud its ability to show it in its best light and also its realism, non fans will appreciate the fact that it is entertaining and   funny, and fans of fight comics will love the punch ups. There truly are no losers, only the ones who get knocked out or tap.

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Martial Arts San Antonio said...

This is really an informative post. Thanks for sharing this to us. This adds more knowledge especially for people who wants to master martial arts.

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