Following my doctor’s advise to help manage my ever increasing blood pressure, I have to avoid salt. In that spirit, Genuine Comic’s Ajax Awakening crawled across my desk for a low-salt review. Written and created by Jeremy Scott Browning (who also did colors), pencils and inks by Leo Gondin, and a pin-up was done by Chris Pongpat. Let me start by saying that I think this Kickstarter project has a great concept, but unfortunately is buried in an era of poor comic practices and an over saturation of tropes.
The story kicks off immediately as you open the first pages of this book, with a colorful palette that is pleasing to the eye. The very cartoony art makes the panels flow perfectly, giving the book a warm family-oriented watermark. But as you flip through the pages and see the action sequences, the gore, and begin to read the dialogue between the characters, I immediately realized: this is definitely not a family book.
Its rare for me to find art that is this colorful without making me want to throw the book away almost immediately; in fact, I almost did when I thought I would be reviewing a children’s book. Due to the climate of the comic book world in this present age, I had to check my bias before giving this book an honest view. My bias was exposed when I saw what I initially called a “Family Dollar Wolverine fighting the Dollar General Doomsday,” I realized I needed to take a step back.
In an alternate dimension similar to Earth, society has adapted crime as a form of entertainment. I think. There are two separate narrators, while the dialog boxes have separate colors the messages are very confusing. Taken separately they each setup a solid story; one talks about the landscape that we are visiting in these pages, the other is explaining what seems to be a legend. But with the two together, it takes the reader out of the flow of the story and leaves no room to properly invest your attention.
Its an interesting take to imagine a world where meta-human criminals serve as a source of entertainment for people, criminal empires are dominated by meta-humans and there appears to be no heroes in sight. Ajax (the Dollar General Wolverine) is shown to be a ruthless individual who truly loves fighting, the action sequence of that fight is awesome with the reader feeling each blow. But then this is broken up by the introduction of two more narrators which again take the readers out of the story.
Again, this idea is great as it highlights the nature of this alternate dimension. These types of fights are common ground in the lives of the people in this world, and the nonchalant way that the two narrators are providing color-commentary remind me of watching wrestling when I was younger and more hopeful of the world in general. These few panels completely destroy the pace of the story and are the less pleasing aspects of the artwork. Because of the closeness to the two characters, non-verbal cues are important to share the mood of the room. But the panels make these two characters seem like they shift from one extreme emotion to another from one panel to another, which could be the artist’s intent or it shows an area where a little more work is needed.
The dialogue needs a lot of improvement. I understand that there is a need to portray the stereotypical “thug” speak with the trash talking between the two gladiators, it feels forced. I’ve been in a few fights in my day and have done a ton of trash talking while pounding someone’s face in, when I did that the cursing that I did was not limited. In fact, I became very creative with the trash talking, combining terms that would otherwise not make sense (“mother b!tch” was one of my favorites). Trash talking is a normal part of fighting, but there needs to be a distinction between the characters, someone that the audience can cheer for even in a fight between bad guys.
Both can be cocky characters, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, however they have to be at different levels of emotional stability. The “good” bad guy that the audience will be cheering can be the more confident and silent cocky trope, while the opponent will be the more deranged.
Again, the idea is phenomenal on paper. A world where violence in this magnitude is a normal occurrence opens doorways to multiple storylines that can be explored by multiple characters. I would certainly rearrange the panel order to avoid the two commentators interrupting the story flow as much as they do in this book. Ajax as a character was explored just enough that leaves the reader wanting to know more, but there is an abundance of mystery to him that prevents any sort of emotional investment into his journey. Stick to one story, and I recommend sticking to the legend aspect of it and using the thematic setting to explore that legend so that additional characters can be introduced in this world without losing the flavor of the world.
Overall, I give this book a 2.5 out of 5. It’s a great concept and I hope that Browning takes some of my recommendations in mind. Flashbacks can be used to support the ongoing narrative by showing different aspects of a character, however they should be stand alone events. Reduce the amount of times that the two commentators appear on the pages, they are probably the biggest interruptions to the pacing and watch some street fight videos for better trash talking examples.
Check out Ajax Awakening #1 now available as part of a double feature with Dreamgirl via Kickstarter. More information can be found in Genuine Comics Facebook page linked below.