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Sunday Slugfest - Strongarm #1

Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Steve Horton
Artist: David Ahn

Publisher: Image Comics

The first issue of Strongarm is scheduled to appear in stores on Wednesday, February 28.





Average Rating:

Michael Deeley:
Luke Handley:
Bruce Logan:
Chris Murman:
Robert Murray:

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the story.






Michael Deeley

In a hi-tech future ruled by the evil Overlord, Rob is wasting his life making deliveries for the villain’s henchmen. One of these thugs tries to kill Rob with his giant tentacle arms. Rob kills him first, but then the giant arms crawl off the corpse and attach themselves to Rob. They send him on a killer rampage that leads to his girlfriend.

If this was a sample of a graphic novel, I might me kinder. A novel would have the space to flesh out the world and characters. But since this is a mini-series/possible ongoing, all we get is another empty bunch of clichés without even original names to dress it up. We don’t know why the thug was trying to kill Rob, what the arms are, or even what year it is! The comic just jumps from one scene to the next with no reason or continuity. I’ve read this twice I still don’t know what’s going on. There’s an Overload, a rebellion, freakish arms, and a girl that looks like a hooker. Seriously, her large breasts sit too high in her vinyl dress. And “Overlord”? That’s the most generic villain name since “Bad-Guy Man.”

I will say the art is very good. It’s a very clean manga-style that creates the impression of an advanced near-future. But it’s lacking in details. This could be any one of a thousand oppressive futures. And the characters aren’t very distinct either. The artist has talent; he just doesn’t have any style. Never thought I’d say that about a comic book artist.

I think Strongarm is supposed to be the story of a low-level criminal turning against his boss with his new monster arms. But I can only assume that from the fragmented story ideas and the familiar plots they resemble. I don’t know what’s going on in this issue, I don’t want to read the next issue, and I’m not entertained. This comic fails in every respect.




Luke Handley:

The first issue of Strongarm introduces us to the protagonist of the tale: Rob, an average guy who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and who’s quite handy with a baseball bat. After killing someone through self-defence, he ends up bonded to a weird techno-biological organism that manifests itself in the form of two large powerful clawed arms that encase his own. These confer super strength but also appear to seriously mess with his head.

This series is set in a dark future, characterised by an extreme class separation, an all powerful Overlord and, of course, a bunch of freedom fighters calling themselves the Resistance. This is hardly anything original and has been done to death in all entertainment forms, but I do still find the concept appealing if it’s done well. There’s enough hinted at this issue to capture my interest and make me want to learn more about this world and its inner workings. Unfortunately, very little actual information is dropped.

As well as Rob, several other characters, who I presume will play important roles in this tale, are introduced. A small group of rebels led by Rob’s brother, who bemoans Rob’s lack of ambition, and the girl who it would seem will become the hero’s love interest. However, this really is all we get to know about them; even their first names aren’t revealed. As I mentioned above, this is one of the major problems with this issue: it withholds too much information to really allow the reader to get involved in the story. At this point, we’re left guessing as to what the “Strongarm” is, who the guy is who had it in his possession at the beginning of the issue and why he had it, what the Resistance cell is up to, why there’s a Resistance in the first place, what’s happened in the last three months between Rob’s gal leaving her previous bloke and now… It’s just a bit too much. This is a shame, because I am intrigued as to where this is headed, but with no feel as to what the hell is going on I feel lost and confused.

The art is heavily manga-influenced. I must confess at this point that I don’t read much manga, so please bear with me if I write anything stupid. As might be expected, the action sequences are very dynamic, the facial expressions exaggerated and the women’s breasts rather large and gravity-defying. Some panels are a little bit unclear (didn’t notice the girl’s black eye for a couple of panels) and the “Strongarm” does look more impressive in colour on the front cover than it does in greyscale in the comic proper. However, that’s not to say that the art is in any way a letdown. Ahn’s work is perfectly decent and is a nice match for Horton’s futuristic setting.

This first issue sets up an interesting premise for the series, teasing the reader as to what is going on and where things might go from here. I don’t mind not having everything spelled out for me from the onset, but, unfortunately, Horton takes this a bit far with so little actually revealed that it left me a bit dazed and confused. The story races through the issue and is over before much happens. Here’s to hoping the next issue will provide some much needed answers.




Bruce Logan:

I don’t quite know what to make of this series, especially this issue. Had it been any other number of things, it might have been different but as far as #1 issues go, Strongarm #1 left me scratching my head, and not in the good way.

With a beginning reminiscent of Image’s Witchblade and Japanese robot manga, the story kicks off with Rob, the main protagonist, running for his life, trying to escape from what I took to be a cyborg. “Took” because not a couple of pages later, the cyborg part got kicked off the platter with a completely new power angle slipping in its place, one similar to the aforementioned Witchblade. However, unlike the mystical origins of the “Blade,” this particular add-on’s origin seem to be of a more scientific nature. Future installments could prove differently, and if there were one thing that interested me enough to actually care for those issues, it is this, the strong-arm(s) part of Strongarm.

As for the characters themselves, apart from Rob, other main characters include his brother and a female character that seems to have some sort of relationship with both brothers. As with quite a few other instances, this character too comes across as so mired in mystery that it crosses the line between intriguing the reader and having him/her just give up.

There is also a second plot, one involving Rob’s brother and dealing directly with what I take will be the main villain, the Overlord. Involving some sort of a resistance, the way it ties into Rob (as it seemed to me) and his current predilection is by way of the “strongarm technology” that takes over Rob, the technology that seems to belong to the Overlord (by way of his “enforcers”).

The best thing about Strongarm #1 was the artwork. Even though personally I am not a fan of either the manga-anime or even its Americanized sibling (as it is here), I know enough to appreciate it done well, at least I like to think so. Although the characters appear years younger than their ages (Rob is 28), they have consistent depictions both in their appearances across pages and in their emotional reactions.

Conclusion: This story could definitely use a #0 issue or even a #1/2 issue, not only to provide a quick backstory but to define the characters enough. I understand that will come later, but as I mentioned before, the pace at which this story takes off, a new reader (which will be every single person reading/buying it) feels utterly and totally lost.

You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net




Chris Murman:

I guess it’s only fair to mention that I am not really into manga. My true comics love is the dying breed superhero genre, and the fact that I have read maybe one or two previous manga books in this world may cloud my judgment. I felt inherently guilty at first, because I was trying to find reasons to like this…, but it didn’t go very well.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything about this book to like, but there were just way too many aspects of this book that I disliked for me to warrant a recommendation.

We have the futuristic society that the Overlord used his powers to craft in his own image. It’s an old line and has been effective for many books, movies and games. One of the most famous being the Emperor, of course. At this stage in the game, however, I’d urge writers to think of something a little more creative as the backdrop for their book. I won’t nitpick this aspect to death; it’s just old and I’m tired of it.

Secondly, the writer gave me virtually nothing to go on for the story. From what I understand, this series will be limited to a few books, which means we don’t have a ton of time for backstory. There was a bit of a flashback, but it didn’t tell me anything. Did I miss an issue #0 anywhere? I was left to assume the “strongarm” Rob is fighting in the beginning is the Overlord, or is it? I can only assume the female (couldn’t even give us her name at all?) got the bruise from her father and she’s moving out of his house. It could have been she gets the bruise from the Overlord himself, and she’s his mistress. Point is, I don’t know. I’m left to assume too much. The dialogue was choppy and hard to follow at times for me as well. The phone message the mystery woman leaves Rob was especially hard to follow.

I’ll move on.

There is also the matter of our unassuming hero, Rob. The boy’s got a home run swing to make Bonds quiver, doesn’t he folks? The gentleman whom he clocks the brains out of seemed to be in control of the powers he had, yet our hero went on a mindless rampage the minute the symbiote merged with him. There’s just a ton of clichés revolving around him. From the relationship to his brother in the “Resistance,” his weird veiled love relationship with the girl who doesn’t have a name, to the aspect of him being the new Strongarm itself, it all makes the brow furrow. When you have a hard time backing the main character of a book, it never bodes well for sales.

The art is serviceable, but not enough to save the book for me. First off, I don’t need to see brain matter and entrails running along the page. I know that makes me sound like a prude, but it’s really not necessary at all in my opinion. It would have really helped the end product for me as well if the interior pages had been colored. I know this genre doesn’t do that sort of thing, but from the cover, I have a feeling the pencils would have really popped with the addition of the letters C-M-Y-K. With story material this challenged, any little bit will help.

I’m sure manga fans will barbeque me for this review, but it’s safe to assume there are much better story ideas out there than this book, right? I welcome any arguments to the contrary as well as recommendations of a manga book that would tickle my fancy. Manga is the largest growing (and from what I read, the largest) faction in the comics industry. Far be it from me to stick to capes my entire life. Go give me a nudge.

Anything would be better than this book. I didn’t want to give it such a low rating, but when the only name we get in the book besides the main character and baddie is some cop who dies immediately, I can’ t do it.




Robert Murray:

I don’t know about any of you, but I like to be wined and dined by the first issue of a comic book series, simply to see if there is some substance to keep me coming back for more. With Strongarm, there is no foreplay, getting straight to the action without any kind of warning (yes, I am talking about comic books, not...well, you know). While this is great for the action junkies out there, it doesn’t quite give me a warm fuzzy feeling. I’m looking for a story to envelop me rather than pound me into submission (yes, still talking about comics), and though I’m sure Steve Horton is going to fill us in on everything in the subsequent issues of this series, this issue flew by so fast and furiously that I didn’t quite know what to make of it. One thing I can tell you: the artwork by David Ahn is simply great, making me think of a Western version of Otomo’s Akira. Yes, the manga sensibilities are definitely apparent in this first issue of Strongarm. I just wish those similarities included the Japanese tendency of lingering on the story and action, creating a slow burn rather than a fiery explosion.

Simply put, the action in Strongarm #1 (and I do mean action) concerns a delivery boy named Rob who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, inheriting bio-mechanical arms from some tough who is attempting to silence him. Like the aforementioned Akira, the entity that inhabits Rob is some sort of pulsating nightmare full of bubbles and wires that snake through his skin, showing on his face. It might be a little too much like Otomo’s masterpiece, as Rob becomes nearly unstoppable with his new arms, though he has no chance of controlling what he does (particularly to a pair of cops he encounters). Just when we’re learning about what makes Rob tick, gleaned from observations by his brother and his abused friend, the issue is over. To say this comic is lightning fast reading would be an understatement. Besides this rushed delivery, I have two other problems with the storytelling in Strongarm #1. First, if the bio-mechanical arms are so powerful, how did Rob defeat the first possessor of the arms? From his brother’s description, he is a 28 year old slacker with no ambitions, and the attack he uses in this issue probably wouldn’t have produced the outcome. Once you read it, you’ll see what I mean. Secondly, the flashback in the second half of the issue really comes out of left field, acting only to introduce us to Rob’s female friend before he encounters her with his new additions. You’d figure a comic which moves this fast wouldn’t have a break, but this clearly halted me in an awkward fashion. Couldn’t this scene have been eased into the issue, rather than forced on us right as we’re dealing with Rob’s obvious conflicts? Clearly, Horton is very enthusiastic about this project, as the energy is pouring off the page. However, if he wants to retain readers, he must pace the story more smoothly and interlock the scenes of description and action together fluidly.

Fortunately, the artwork by David Ahn really saves the day in this first issue, displaying a great combination of manga and traditional American styles of comic art. Like the writing, Ahn’s drawings have a compelling kinetic energy that sucks you into the story. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of action lines, but here they are interjected appropriately in each panel, adding to the overall effect of the black and white art without being a distraction. Also, his expressions are very well done for the written action. Though these faces are typically in an over-the-top expression, it fits with the story, thereby enhancing the breakneck action. One minor complaint I have about Ahn’s work is his representation of the female figure. The two women in this issue are built like Russ Meyer refugees, causing some undue, uh, attention to other features of their personalities. Yes, this comic is all about over-the-top, as I said, but these female forms and the occasionally graphic violence are a little too gratuitous. Still, great work by an artist I am unfamiliar with.

If you’re looking for all out, non-stop action in the vein of the movie Crank, you’ll probably really enjoy Strongarm #1. However, if you’re like me and after an involving story with clever plot developments, you might want to look elsewhere. I think if Horton gets his act together and enlightens his story with more details and revelations in future issues, this could be a very good series. All the pieces are here: it’s just a matter of putting them in the right places at the right speed.



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