Heart

Written by Blair Butler and drawn by Kevin Mellon  

Published by Image Comics

There are few things that I enjoy more than Mixed Martial Arts and comic books. The skills, courage and yes, heart, that are displayed by cage fighters match the epic struggles that I love in comic books. A great MMA fight is like a real life super hero showdown. It is a mystery to me why more comic fans are not into the sport. Maybe this book will help deliver them onto the path of awareness.

Blair Butler is an MMA fan. She has what might be the best job in the world as the MMA reporter and comics reviewer for G4’s Attack of the Show. More importantly for this story, she gets the sport. She gets the struggle, the training, the skills and the strength needed, how you can so easily lose and how being a big fish in your pond doesn’t stop you getting swallowed up in deeper waters.  Even though you might not realise it, it’s not just about winning.- the lessons learned are far greater than that.

This is the story of Oren ‘Rooster’ Redmond. Inspired by seeing his brother fight he plucks up the courage to walk in the gym and get his arse kicked in training. Persevering, he enters the cage for real and finds a reason to give up the dull office job that he hates.

The creators do an excellent job of recreating the world of MMA. To introduce each fighter as they enter the cage they box up their stats, with height, weight, reach, win/loss ratio and the all-important walkout song. Its just like watching a UFC pay-per-view and seeing Rooster’s song change as his career develops is a lovely touch.

Mellon’s art had me hooked from the fifth page. Rooster goes for a flashy flying knee, as you turn the page, you see his opponent dodge and land a booming overhand right to the jaw. Mellon’s art has a scratchy kinetic sense – you can feel the punches and the thud on the canvas when someone is taken down. He has a great way of focusing on the details that matter to the story telling. Backgrounds will fade out, the main focus of a panel will be detailed but the other figures will just be silhouettes. I like how he varies his panels to focus on different aspects of the story: there are nine panel grids, lots of wide panels for in-the-cage action, then blowing out to full page shots at key moments.

Importantly, he also does a good job of drawing the Jiu-Jitsu. As a BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) practitioner myself, albeit a poor one, I appreciate the time he took in getting the positions right. There is a triangle set up in the first issue that is wicked, he manages to show movement and struggle while keeping the positions technically correct.

I love how he drew the sweet training montage below (the training scenes are always my favourites in martial arts movies). And the dude draws sweet speed lines.

It’s not all gung-ho fists, bullshit and bravado, there is a bitter sweet vein of reality that runs through this book. Butler and Mellon create a very believable character in Rooster and takes the story places that you don’t expect.

Should I buy it? If you have ever wondered about the appeal of MMA, Heart does a great job of explaining it. If you train or fight but don’t read comics this is still very worthwhile for a well-created snapshot of the fight game.

Next week: Inspired by reading three excellent books in a one week, I list my top five comics of 2012 so far. And in a continuing effort at pursuing diversity, I read and review some manga-the most excellent Pluto by Naoki Urasawa.

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5 Responses to Heart

  1. Pingback: My Top 5 Comics of 2012 (So Far) | joeblogscomics

  2. Pingback: Top 12 Comics for 2012 | joeblogscomics

  3. wwayne says:

    I just finished to read this comic book you recommended me.
    SPOILER WARNING
    When I started reading it, I thought “I bet this is going to be the umpteenth, typical American story of a normal guy that goes from zero to hero.” And then, the more the story was going on, the more I was realizing how wrong I was. This comic book always leads you to the least expected narrative path, and this is something very difficult to get, when you write a sport themed story.
    Honestly, I’m glad that Rooster left MMA. The typical machismo of the boxe environment was leading him to renounce to his good guy identity: the more he was improving as a fighter, the worse he was getting as a person. He was lucky that his career ended when he still had the possibility of picking up the pieces.
    It was very hard to create a decent happy ending, after such a dramatic conclusion to his MMA career, and even in this case miss Butler proved herself to be a brilliant writer. The ending she begot isn’t just pleasant – it’s MOVING, and this is another objective very hard to achieve, when you write a comic book. On the screen there is a real person, conveying emotions with his face, voice and gestures; a comic book, on the contrary, is just ink on paper, so it’s much harder to stir up strong emotions with it.
    I wanted to thank you wholeheartedly for your recommendation. It was a very pleasant read, and I would never had known about it without you. Do you have any other “hidden treasure”, another masterpiece most people do not even know to recommend?

  4. I am very glad you enjoyed this book so much Wwayne. You can never really tell if someone else will appreciate a book in quite the same way you did.

    I wish there were a ton more sports orientated comics that were this good but that seems to be something that manga does much better than western comics.

    Comics that were similarly powerful for me, were Daytripper by Ba & Moon and the Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire. I’m aiming to review both soon. Oh and I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Nimura. I am definitely planning on going deeper in to left field with my reviews this year. There are so many fantastic comics that get don’t get enough exposure.

    Thanks for reading man.

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