Coming soon from AfterShock Comics is an Original Graphic Novel that deals with the violence of Extreme Fighting and the difficulties faced by a young gay fighter. Kill A Man written by Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson pulls no punches and is a hard hitting story about individual choices and the consequences that follow.
With an eye catching cover and an exciting premise, Kill A Man makes some big promises from the get go. But the question is, can the creators keep the readers entertained for the full bout or does it all end abruptly in the first round?
To some it’s a world of entertainment and wealth, to others it’s nothing more than violence and hatred. For James Belly it is all he knows and he has become a slave in the ring of the Extreme Fighting Championships.
The young fighter is following in the footsteps of his late, great father, who was a champion of the ring years before. However, during a brutal fight, Belly Senior goads his opponent, Xavier Mayne, with homophobic slurs and the result is a literal fight to the death.
Riding the crest of his own popularity, James Belly fails to see the fall ahead of him and when he is publicly outed as being gay it all comes crashing down around him. Ostracised from his family and branded a cheat in the wrestling world, James has only one place to turn in his hour of need: the man who killed his father, Xavier Mayne.
Writing For the Ring
From the very beginning of the book you get a sense of the story Orlando and Johnson are telling. It has the initial air of showmanship, extravagance and performance, but very quickly the violence underneath takes over and the cruelty of people becomes the overriding theme.
There are two main themes throughout the book that battle for dominance but are so intrinsically linked it is impossible to separate them. The first is the sport itself. The Extreme Fighting Championship is a hard world for it’s fighters to live in. They have to live up to an image that is thrust upon them by the sport, it’s promoters and the fan base. People expect violence and the macho conflict in and out of the ring.
The bigotry and hatred of anything deemed not manly enough is rife within the story and the sport that it is portraying. At first it’s just the language of individuals but the writers make it clear that these opinions are born from deeper rooted problems within the promotion of the sport itself. When James is outed, on the eve of a title bout, Orlando and Johnson quickly make the reader realise that homophobia is embedded in society and not just the opinion of a few small minded people.
Although this is a book about a fighter coming to terms with his own sexuality, there is a much bigger picture on display. Orlando and Johnson are using their story and the EFC as a microcosm for the world at large and how underlying prejudices in society seep into everyday life.
The story is powerful and, due to its very nature, hard hitting. The plot is tightly written with each step building a complex picture of the world James lives in. The characters are believable and empathetic. The reader gets a good sense of who each person is and the role that they have to play in the story. Even the extra’s feel like fully rounded characters who have a story of their own to tell.
In the same way that there are two main elements to the narrative, there are two distinct elements to the brilliance of the Art. Both of these are provided by Al Morgan who colors his own inks.
The inking style is heavy handed with vast areas of black forming dense shadows across the panels. This intensity is heightened by the solid black gutters than frame the panels. The overall look is brutal and for a large part unwelcoming. It reflects the world of the fighters and the macho environment they inhabit.
To counter this and interject an emotional element into the art work, Morgan uses block colors to differentiate scenes and moments. Small highlights of color give the images some depth but it is the strength of the solid coloring that has the most impact. A scene that shifts from black and white to blood red for every other panel brings out the violence of the moment. Similarly, a quick change in color between panels expresses a shift in emotional responses in the images portrayed.
The coloring in Kill A Man has the strongest initial effect on the reader. As you turn from page to page you are struck by the intense focus on a single color. This in turn makes you instantly aware of any deviation, drawing you directly to a specific moment on the page. Morgan sets a standard in the opening pages and from that moment on, he has complete control over where you look and the focus of the plot.
Rounds of Letters
Jim Campbell is an experienced letterer who knows how to get the best out of a script. He can pick up on subtleties in speech and creates a style to fit the artwork. In Kill A Man his most impressive achievement is differentiating between speech levels. By changing the shape of a speech balloon or the color of the font, Campbell is able to create loud, amplified voices and behind the back whispers.
The text itself is fairly straightforward as Campbell doesn’t experiment with different fonts. Instead he uses bold text for emphasising often hurtful language and type size to express emotion. The placement of the speech balloons also accentuate the feelings behind the spoken words. Large outspoken speeches hang above the characters, displayed for the world, whereas the cruel, personal insults often drop to the bottom of the panel to hover near the ears of the victims of abuse.
There is a streak of cruelty throughout the story and Campbell makes sure that this is obvious. He uses the lettering to make the attacks personal. As a reader you can see exactly who the verbal abuse is aimed at and, more importantly, how it is delivered: in hushed tones, just below the surface.
Kill A Man might seem like a difficult sell. On the surface it looks like a sport comic about Extreme Fighters which will have a limited audience. But like a number of great sport’s stories there is so much more going on. This comic is about self identity; it’s about institutionalised bullying; it’s about anger, and rage, and revenge.
At the heart of this book you have two characters from different generations who are trying to come to terms with the same thing: their own sexuality. The world they have chosen to live in does not accept them and they have each adopted a personality they can barely live with. What makes Kill A Man so impressive is the way in which their stories are told.
The inks, colors, and letters reinforce the society that surrounds the characters. It’s brutal and harsh and often not pleasant reading but that is the point Orlando and Johnson are trying to get across. This is more than just another Sports Comic, this is an intense examination of social acceptances and the pain they can bring.
Due to be released in early June from AfterShock Comics, Kill A Man is an exceptionally gripping read from the very first page. It is difficult to recommend this to everybody but if you have any interest in comic book storytelling you should be reading this.