Thursday, 26 June 2014

Strongman Review (Charles Soule, Allan Gladfelter)

Tigre is an old, burned out Luchador wrestler who was once the toast of Mexican wrestling and starred in numerous Luchador films back in the 60s and 70s – kinda like blaxpoitation flicks but with Luchadores. Now he’s throwing seedy wrestling matches for fifty bucks a pop. That is until he’s approached by a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his dead lover from decades past, and she has a mission for him: stop the organ traffickers that’re destroying the poorer neighbourhoods of the city. But, with the crime reaching far beyond the slums to the corridors of political power, will this be Tigre’s last fight?

Debuts are tricky things, especially in comics. Read the debut comics of some of the biggest names writing today – Warren Ellis, Brian Bendis, Garth Ennis, to name a few (coincidentally all surnames ending in “is”) - and you’ll end up reading some pretty crap books with no indication of the quality these guys would achieve years down the line. Charles Soule, though? Strongman is his first published comic and it’s so polished and good, you’d think he’d been in comics for years!

The only other non-superhero book of Soule’s I’ve read is Letter 44, but right away you can tell Strongman is worlds apart from that title. With its storyline of a Luchador wrestler hunting down organ traffickers with his bare hands and saving the city from corrupt politicians, Strongman is a vigilante story that has the gloriously corny aspects of the pulp vigilante stories from the 70s. It reads like a cross between Robert Rodriguez’s Machete and Frank Miller’s The Hard Goodbye.

It’s played totally straight but it also has elements of humour, noir, and pathos sprinkled throughout, and, of course, a deep love and respect for Luchador wrestling (the great Mexican wrestlers never took off their masks, and Tigre is never depicted without his). But Soule also pulls off more sophisticated narrative tricks, playing with what’s real and what’s isn’t as we peek into the mind of a man whose years of alcoholism and fighting have destroyed his memories. There’s the same weird unbalancing scene from The Hard Goodbye where Marv realises Goldie may not be dead, as Tigre sees his own Goldie seemingly come back to life.

I like that Soule basically does his more strait-laced version of the Luchador and that, while Tigre is (and needs to be for the story he’s in) a near-unstoppable machine, that he does have weaknesses and the moments where his true strength come through are based around choices of honour and character rather than physical power. That said, there are some brilliant scenes where Tigre’s strength is utilised well that fit in perfectly with the story.

Allan Gladfelter’s art is wonderful – I loved the character designs for Tigre and his pals, and the opening few pages are creatively constructed and bursting outwards to the reader before settling down into the traditional comic panel structure. The action’s drawn well so none of the beats in the fights are missed, and moments like Tigre sat in a bar booth by himself with a drink have a remarkable power to them.

Also, and this isn’t a spoiler, but when you read this and want to understand the final two pages, pay attention to the borders of the panels throughout the book, and you’ll get your answer. 

Strongman’s not the masterpiece that Miller’s The Hard Goodbye was (which it clearly owes a lot to), but it’s still a great comic that does enough to make itself stand out, and it’s a helluva debut to come roaring out of the gate with! Strongman: it’s a good one, guys, check it out!

(This is an aside but, according to Wikipedia - so take this with a hefty pinch of salt - the second Strongman volume is completed, Soule & Gladfelter just haven’t sold it for publication yet. Why, when Soule’s star has never been brighter, have they not published this?! All the Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns, Superman/Wonder Woman, Inhuman, Thunderbolts, She-Hulk and Letter 44 fans Soule’s been cultivating would swarm to it! C’mon chaps, Strongman Volume 2 – let’s have it!)


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