Just in time for the 15th anniversary of Gaijin Studio’s original The Ride series, writer Doug Wagner and artist Daniel Hillyard ( Plastic), along with a slew of guest artists and storytellers bring forth The Ride: Burning Desire. This 5-issue mini-series anthology from Image and 12-Gauge Comics serves as both a reintroduction and a sequel to the original story, and it spares none of over-the-top thematic craziness or surprisingly effective emotional beats one could expect from such an unhinged pulp-noir comic centered around a cursed ’68 Camaro
“After a 15-year stint in prison, disgraced former detective Samantha Vega works as a bouncer. But when she discovers the exotic dancers in her care are in danger, Vega must decide if she’s willing to risk her freedom to help the people with nowhere else to turn.”
Writing & Plot
Wagner and Hillyard do a great job of maintaining a sense of familiarity to these characters and this story for those who had read The Ride previously, while also crafting a story for readers whose point of entry is Burning Desire. The script offers brief but effective windows into Samanta Vega’s past and why she was in prison, but it never becomes a point of such focus that it detracts from the here and now. Vega herself is a kickass protagonist – flawed, but good-natured and always ready to finish a fight. Jumping into this world of Unicorn onesies, old grudges, and crooked cops (topical, eh?) is a simple blast of an experience due to the sharp storytelling and unrelenting humor. The um… unusual cast of characters that make up the crew of the Burning Desire are each noteworthy characters in their own right, not only aiding Vega in her mission to save a young girl from the demons of her past but as characters in their own stories. Each of the club’s dancers has their own short going over their background and how they got to the present, and each story is brought to life by a rotating team of guest artists and storytellers. This list of talent includes Adam Hughes, Cully Hamner, Tomm Coker, Chris Brunner, and Doug Dabbs, and each creator brings their own style to the table for an anthology that offers varied but fitting tales to the main story. Despite its obvious absurdity, this comic has a lot of heart as well. The attention paid to the whole cast makes them all almost instantly likable, and this ends up in scenes that can be wholesome, or cathartic, or sometimes emotionally devastating. If I had to pitch this comic to a friend, I’d say it’s like a neon-colored Sin City. I mean this in a completely positive manner, as this comic’s written delivery is a brilliant exercise in balancing effective character writing and absurd humor and wrapping it all up in a grindhouse-noir paint job.
The shifting visuals of The Ride: Burning Desire are brought to life by Daniel Hillyard and colorists Laura Martin and Charlie Kirchoff for the main story, as well as the previously mentioned list of guest artists for the character shorts. Hillyard’s pencils offer a simple, almost cartoonish sort of design that works very well for the kind of comic The Ride is. Anything more stylized would have robbed the serious moments of their gravity, while anything more geared towards realism would have made the tone harder to parse. There’s a focus on character in Hillyard’s art that makes interfacing with each character an easy task for the reader (the good guys look lovable, the bad guys look like assholes). The “Burning Desire” story looks superb, and this is all in part to the vibrant work of colorists Martin and Kirchoff (whose mid-series switch is impossible to notice).
Every bit of the guest art is superb as well, and all offer wildly different styles to separate themselves from both the main story and the work of the other artists. Adam Hughes work in “Sparkles” brings his usual gorgeous soft textured work to the table in what’s probably the outright “prettiest” art in the book. Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi’s “Ash” story offers excellent character detail and stark imagery to a story of childhood trauma. Cully Hamner and Nayoung Kim’s work in “Foo” (my favorite character) uses dark shades and Hammer’s heavily textured pencils to bring to life the most unsettling story in this mini-series. “Nun” from Tomm Coker is the most visually striking story of the bunch, using stark black and white imagery to tell a short grindhouse tale full of venom and attitude (I half expected Frank Miller’s Marv to come rumbling into frame at any moment here). Finally, Doug Dabbs’ art for “Arnie & Albert” is the most unconventional, and it works brilliantly for the completely out-of-left-field psychedelic trip this short is. This whole series is lettered by Ed Dukeshire (who also worked on Blacking Out), whose consistent lettering talent offers fantastic voice context for every scene and situation this comic covers.
The Ride: Burning Desire is a grindhouse comic with as much goofiness as it has heart. Underneath its cast of lovable weirdos and potentially cursed muscle cars, this is a noir story of bad people trying to do what’s right by the people they care about. Doug Wagner, Daniel Hillyard, and every other talented artist and storyteller that contributed to this mini-series have had their unique hand in creating a little gem of noir storytelling in comics. If this seems like your kind of ride, pick up the trade paperback now from your local comic shop.