Our friends at Kickstart Comics have a couple of new graphic novels that hit store shelves (both physical and digital) this week.  They were nice enough to send copies of Bounty Killer (which is coming to a theatre near you), and Space Gladiator (which has to have the best title of the year).  So let’s take a look at their new releases!

Bounty Killer – Right off the bat, I have to mention that Bounty Killer is going to be a movie and Celebrity Apprentice’s Gary Busey is in it.  Obviously, we already have a vested interest in this project.  But we’ll deal with that at a later date.  On-topic, the Bounty Killer graphic novel is a delight.  Set in a post-apocalyptic future, a ruling body hires assassins to track down the white-collar criminals who brought down society in the first place.  It’s an Occupy Wall   Street take on Mad Max starring a sexy assassin.  Which I think we can agree is sufficiently badass.

Bounty Killer follows Mary Death (which is an amazing name) and her rival, Drifter as they track down Snaggletooth Harry.  And for Bounty Killer, it’s all in the execution – a fairly standard plot jumps the rails pretty quickly and turns into something gloriously nuts.  It starts with Henry Saine’s art – unlike the rest of the Kickstart line, it’s mostly black and white with occasional spot color (including Mary’s red outfit).  It’s nicely cartoonish, and some scenes look a little more unfinished, almost like storyboards.  That’s not meant as a criticism, though; the occasional change in style really fits with the pacing of the story.  It’s just a fun book to look at, which is not always something that I notice.

Mary is a fantastic lead – she brings a real vitality to the dark setting.  There’s an energy to her that the usual post-apocalyptic glowering dudes with giant guns just don’t have.  The second act of the book reveals Mary’s past, making her more than just the sexy gunslinger, which is welcome.  (Also, she uses explosives that have her name and logo printed across the front, which made me laugh so hard.  Anybody can blow stuff up, but Mary does it with style.)  And while Drifter initially seems to be the sort of standard guy who you’d expect to be killing people for money, he’s nicely developed over the course of the book.

There’s such an appealing energy to Bounty Killer.  It reminded me a little of the Borderlands video games, between the landscape and the over-the-top action scenes.  I mean, there’s a wrecking ball-swinging robot and a trailer pulled by three motorcycles (all controlled by a guy sitting atop the trailer like a stagecoach driver – it’s an excellent visual).  And neat touches like Drifter’s gun caddy and the corporate criminals really let it stand out from other dystopian futures.

Basically, there are two ways to make a comic where a character holds a gun that’s bigger than they are.  The 1990s were all about the wrong way, but Bounty Killer creators Jason Dodson and Henry Saine do it the right way here.  It’s a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the movie, which boasts 100% more Busey than the next leading contender.

Space Gladiator – I had no idea what to expect from Space Gladiator.  The title seems remarkably straightforward – it actually seems like a title you’d see in the background of an Android’s Dungeon scene on The Simpsons.  And indeed, it is a graphic novel about a guy who engages in arena battles to the death.  In space.  But the thing is, it’s actually hilarious.

The book begins by introducing Til, the last human being in existence.  He’s a guy in his twenties who lives his life as an exhibit in a zoo.  It’s actually a neat reveal that reminds me of the second season premiere of LOST – we meet Til who’s just hanging out in his apartment and not really doing much, and then we get the pullback that aliens tourists are watching his every move.  His peaceful (albeit lonely and boring) status quo comes to an abrupt end when a gang of raiders attacks the ship and sells him into slavery.   And so the last human ends up fighting aliens in a gladiatorial arena.  Thanks to all the time he’s spent playing video games, he’s actually quite good at it (Hee!), and he becomes a bit of a celebrity.  There’s more to it, as we get into Til’s history, meet an insane God-Emperor, and meet someone who shouldn’t exist, but there is plenty of alien gladiatorial action.

It’s the way the story’s told that really makes it stand out – written by Cole Haddon, Space Gladiator is legitimately funny.  Much of the humor comes from the narration; it’s a little like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that way.  “Til’s life is the worst life in the history of human lives.  Unless you count all of the humans who have suffered or died horribly, of course.  They all had worse lives than Til, but his is pretty lousy by most accounts.”  Any time the narration has to introduce an alien race or explain historical events, it does so with plenty of wit.  The humor sells the story instantly, and before you know it, you’re entirely invested in the adventures of a Space Gladiator.  Even as the stakes get higher and the story darker, it remains clever.

The art comes from a couple of Kickstart veterans – Jim Fern of Headache and Jesus Redondo Roman of Knowbodies, and it works perfectly.  The aliens are suitably gruesome, the humans are nice and expressive (Til almost looks like the lead in a 60s romance comic), and the action scenes are suitably exciting.  It’s great storytelling, and in the best sci-fi tradition some of the aliens looks suspiciously like Earth animals.  One of Til’s comrades is a rhino, and there’s a doctor who looks a heck of a lot like a giant ant.  The alien design invokes Star Wars, actually.  (Come to think of it, Til’s appearance might very well be an homage to Flash Gordon.  And I’m taking the way that various characters refer to Til as “hu-mon” as a Robot Monster shoutout.)  It looks great and makes good use of Kickstart’s new, larger format.

I enjoyed Space Gladiator so much more than I thought I would.  It’s fun, clever, heartwarming and thoroughly enjoyable.

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