The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 133 | Heart trade paperback review

Leaving Proof 133 | Heart trade paperback review
Published on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 by

Comic book critic (and G4TV host) Blair Butler puts her money where her mouth is and pens a comic book of her own with the mixed martial arts-themed comic book Heart. Does she score a knockout or is it a lay-and-pray snoozer? Read the full Leaving Proof review to find out!

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Writing combines solid knowledge of mixed martial arts with straightforward storytelling, adroit characterization, and nuanced exposition.
  • Avoids tired sports fiction tropes.
  • Clear visual storytelling.

Cons:

  • Artist’s raw rendering style may turn off some readers.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Publication Date: July 2012
  • Written by: Blair Butler
  • Illustrated by: Kevin Mellon
  • Lettered by: Crank!
  • Format: 120 page black and white trade paperback; collects Heart #1–4 originally published in single magazine format by Image Comics in 2011 and 2012.
  • List Price: $12.99 US (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale now

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Full Review

I’m a big fan of the combat sports and have been for almost three decades now. One of my earliest televised sports memories is seeing Diosdado “Dodie Boy” Peñalosa—fighting on a partially atrophied and polio-stricken leg—win the IBF light flyweight boxing title and I was watching Volk Han dominate his Fighting Network Rings competition on pirate broadcasts of Japanese satellite TV years before the term “mixed martial arts” came into common usage in the mainstream sports community. That being said, my enthusiasm for the combat sports does not automatically extend to combat sports film and fiction. I love Rocky as much as the next guy, but to me, the real-life drama that occurs in the ring or in the cage almost always trumps the slick sports entertainment manufactured by Hollywood. Thus, it was with some measure of skepticism that I approached the trade paperback collection of stand-up comedian, comic book critic, and TV host Blair Butler’s Heart, a four-issue mini-series about a fictional MMA fighter making a name for himself in the sport’s minor leagues.

That skepticism turned out to be wholly unnecessary.

The story of Oren “Rooster” Redmond’s rise through the Midwest MMA circuit reflects the author’s familiarity with the intricacies of mixed martial arts issues as well as an understanding of the emotional and competitive appeal of the combat sports. Butler’s writing combines solid knowledge of the fight game with adroit characterization, straightforward storytelling, and a talent for nuanced and discreet exposition. Knowledgeable MMA fans will no doubt appreciate the uncontrived incorporation of fight techniques, cage strategy, weight-cutting, the so-called “denting” of a fighter’s chin, audiences’ preference for active strikers over defensive specialists, and other combat sport-specific concerns in the dialogue and plot. Even the fighters’ entrance music, a seemingly superfluous detail that many MMA athletes and fans actually spend time discussing, is touched upon. Readers uninterested in such minutiae will still find a lot to like about the everyman protagonist and his attempt to make a decent living out of his passion, no matter how improbable success might beThe story’s core conflict transcends MMA and sports.

Heart avoids tired combat sports film and fiction tropes. Butler wisely refrains from turning the bouts into lazy, good-versus-evil caricatures, focusing instead on the internal struggle against self-doubt and fear that fighters contend with when faced with adversity in the cage. The result is a sustained sense of existential peril that persists even during fights where Redmond is matched against inferior competition. Away from the action in the cage, the narrative splits the spotlight between his on-going quarter-life crisis and the somewhat harsh economic realities of full-time training in what is still a relatively young professional sport. The parallel subplots of Redmond’s MMA career and his maturation as a person fully coalesce about three-fourths of the way through the book and—without giving too much away and spoiling the story—the denouement is genuinely affecting, showing that finding the courage and conviction to pursue one’s dreams is more important than actually achieving them.

Artist Kevin Mellon’s visual storytelling is clear, varied, and easy to follow. The in-cage action, right down to the specific fight techniques being applied by the combatants, can be easily interpreted by all but the most casual MMA fans without the need for explicit narration. The somewhat raw quality of Mellon’s rendering style might turn off some readers, but it’s a minor qualm in light of everything else he does well.

I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Heart. Butler and Mellon have produced a poignant work that doesn’t succumb to cliché and excessive melodrama. Highly Recommended.

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