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Let’s get ready to r.. um… Brawl?: Graeme punches up from 10/10.

Graeme McMillan

It’s a cheap and unnecessary joke to say that BRAWL #1 is a book of two halves. I mean, it’s true, of course; this is a anthology of two stories that once spent time as part of the Activate webcomic portal, so it’s literally got that “two halves” thing going on. But the problem is that it’s true of the two strips, so different in terms of style and substance as to make the book’s quality uneven and somewhat distracting.

The star of the book, for me, is Dean Haspiel’s Billy Dogma. I admit relative unfamiliarity with Haspiel’s writing, but the overall effect of the strip is Jack Kirby and Damon Runyon teaming up with to do a special romantic episode of The Venture Bros., with every element of the awesome that that suggests – It’s in the stylized dialogue like “That’s a problem when a bruiser won’t break. He always gets right back up and walks straight back to his dame” and the exaggerated art that mixes The King with Stephen DeStefano. It’s in the swagger and the twisted, unexpected plot of the whole thing, which just crackles with the excitement and humor and true romance that you’ve always wanted in your comic entertainment.

The other strip, Michel Fiffe’s Panorama, is interesting, but nowhere near as immediately arresting as Haspiel’s strip. It’s arguably something that’s going to be more satisfying in the long run, but this first episode, with scratchy yet attractive art and somewhat disgusting story (The protagonist keeps melting and there’s some kind of falling apart tongue thing happening at the end), doesn’t manage to gel into something coherent enough to satisfy completely at this point. When placed in comparison with the louder, simpler and more outright fun of Billy Dogma, its star tends to shine a little bit dimmer, which is admittedly kind of a shame.

Overall, it’s a Good, and maybe more importantly, an interesting, book; an unusual selection of stories to mix, but also something unexpected and unexpectedly enjoyable.

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