“As I step into the cage… I hear my opponent’s family booing me. I look forward to ruining their night.” That line perfectly sets the tone before the fists and knees start flying in this fantastic debut issue from writer Blair Butler, who many will know from Attack of the Show’s Fresh Ink segments. To sum it up, Heart #1 is the tale of Oren “Rooster” Redmond, a tatted up, fanged MMA newbie. Readers are thrown straight into the octagon with Rooster and get a healthy dose of backstory while they’re at it.
Butler’s script is sparse and simple, and I mean that in the best way possible. Butler avoids the usual overcrowded word balloons that beginning comic writers so often fall prey to, opting to stick to an inner monologue that feels honest and revealing while coupling that with terse, measured speech from all of the fighters. She keeps things simple and really lets Kevin Mellon’s art do the talking for the characters.
Let’s be honest though, Mellon’s art does a lot more than talk in this issue. It jabs, grapples, ducks and weaves with a hell of a lot of spirit. His dynamic pencils will keep readers on their toes for sure. In Heart, Mellon is working in a fairly basic palette of black and white pencils with bits of marker and pen here and there. It makes for a real gorgeous package. While the fighters are in the cage, everything outside of it fades into a haze of black ink. Nothing else matters once these guys step into the octagon. Mellon does some really great facial work in this issue as well. Determination, pain, depression, joy and that “Oh my god, I can’t believe that just happened” feeling are all expertly rendered by Mellon.
The clock for each fight is jammed right into the corner of every panel and ticks down alongside all the face-pounding. It’s a really ingenious device that adds another level of urgency and vitality to the bouts. I found myself watching the clock just like I would during any televised sporting event.
Speaking of which, I’m not an MMA guy. I know almost nothing about the sport, but Heart was anything but impenetrable. Butler and Mellon don’t waste time explaining anything to people like me through loads of exposition, but litter the story with enough context clues for readers who aren’t versed in the ways of the octagon so that they can keep their heads afloat. Heart encourages readers to want to know more about the sport and doesn’t bog them down in unnecessary amounts of detail.
Heart is a story perfectly suited to the comics medium. Instead of nonsensical editing and quick cuts being used to show us the fight like we’d get in a movie, readers are able to take their time with each panel, each moment, like a fighter studying footage of past matches. It was always clear to me what was going on at every moment of each fight showcased in this issue. Butler and Mellon should be applauded for their ability to tell a clear, concise story about something as chaotic as an MMA throw-down.
The info boxes for each fighter, which seem heavily influenced by shonen manga (or are shonen manga influenced by them!?!?), are a welcome addition to the story. Just like watching a match on TV, we’re given the fighters’ weight, height, fighting style, their record and entrance music. It’s another one of those things that just makes the whole affair seem that much more authentic and helps the characters to feel all that much more rounded out.
In this first issue, Rooster is already shaping up to be an interesting figure to follow. We learn about his reasons for being a fighter and see that he might not even belong in the ring. He takes a huge amount of abuse and doesn’t seem to have the necessary skill set to keep hanging with the pros. There’s a fascinating story being told here and I can’t wait for the next installment.
Heart #1 is a great comic to hand to someone who isn’t into the medium. I’m surprised that more sports comics aren’t on the shelves. Hopefully this book will help drive a few MMA fans into the comic shop. I can actually see handing this to my comics-phobic brother who always has friends over for the big pay-per-view fights. I don’t just recommend Heart to sports fans, I recommend it to everyone who has ever stepped into a comic shop, especially if you haven’t given anything but the Big Two the time of day lately.
Butler and Mellon have constructed an almost perfect first issue. It accomplishes the one vital thing that every #1 needs to; it makes me want to pick up #2. It’s hard not to want the next chapter when the first is this good. I’m ready for the next round. Let’s hope that Butler and Mellon have the stamina and the, ahem, heart to keep competing at this level.
- Expertly choreographed fight sequences
- Gorgeous art
- Interesting subject
- Great debut issue for Butler
- Heart is only only scheduled to be four issues long and that’s a shame