Bad Karma: #1, #2, and #3: Action, Feelings, and Forgiveness
Once again a black man is on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. But what if the white veterans who did the murder came forward? What if the murder was just the US military industrial complex doing what it was built for? What if the vets who were commanded to do the murder want to come clean to get the falsely accused man freed? And what if the so-called Justice System just didn’t care?
Bad Karma is the action and feelings comic you’ve been waiting for. Written and lettered by my friend Alex de Campi and art by Ryan Howe, and Dee Cunniffe, you can find it self published on Panel Syndicate.
This series is the spiritual successor to the Hell’s Kitchen Movie Club fan comics that de Campi developed with a rotating crew of artists showcasing charmingly mundane interactions between one Bucky Barnes and one Frank Castle as they try to enjoy a regular movie night while coping with trauma. Just vets being vets. It’s warm and funny and insightful and if you’re the one person in comics who hasn’t read it yet, get on it.
Regardless of the earlier fan works, the main characters in this series feel completely fresh yet are so thoroughly inhabited they are easy to get charmed by, especially for their flaws.
These are two veterans, Ethan and Sully, who are wrestling with the pain and loss that they endured– both physical and emotional. They are working-class Boston guys (Southie to be precise) who enlisted young and fought in combat units in Afghanistan. Their friendship and history together, the way they take care of each other and try to balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses are central. I love the extremely honest and upfront ways Ethan and Sully address aspects of their disabilities and the subtler ways in which they don’t cope with other parts of them.
The third member of the party is Ethan’s ex-wife Cheryl. We find her trying to wrangle their kids as the only responsible person around. She’s got a quick wit and her clothes make sense. When’s the last time you saw an action story where the protagonist’s ex-wife isn’t just sympathetic but is actually someone you cheer for? Was it Die Hard? Would you believe you don’t have to turn ex-wives into humorless unfeeling monsters and nags? Who knew? (Pssssst…women knew). If you’re someone who avoids stories without women— this one has quite the woman.
Like any action story worth its salt this one has politics. Race and class shape the world and the ways it plays out in US institutions that claim to be fair but are extremely obviously unjust is central to the story.
This comic says fuck the CIA, fuck the private military contractor CEO’s and fuck the “Justice System”. It shows how working class people are exploited and the poor are dehumanized by these systems. It shows how some men get rich from the military while others are left with trauma and unemployment. Unlike my review, this story is not didactic about it. The intrigue is rewarding.
I had the pleasure of first reading Bad Karma when it was just a film script. I read it on a flight and I was riveted to my seat. I’m so excited that this story is now going to be readable by anyone with a computer.
This series also stands out because the art is fucking great. The art strikes the right balance of heightened cartooning and realism especially character design, facial expressions and body language. The full character acting. The care that went into showing how someone with a specific amputation might walk.
The environments the story takes place across are so believable. From a Waffle House to a working class Boston home to a Virginia mansion built on the bodies of the dead, the detail shines through. Not just in the background of the panels but in the voices in the background of the panels.
The cover of each issue is a snapshot from the characters’ pasts. I don’t know if I’ve seen a comic do this before for each issue but its an excellent way to develop the world of the comic. My heart breaks a bit when I see them at bootcamp because I know what comes next.
Redemption and forgiveness are themes I see through this text. Do our protagonists trying to right a wrong absolve them in some way? Is that even what they are seeking? Are Ethan and Cheryl able to build a healthier relationship as parents even if they aren’t married? And what does Aaron Carter, the man unjustly imprisoned for murder for YEARS get out of this?
I’m on the edge of my seat for them all.
I was provided free review copies but I also bought them on Panel Syndicate.
My most recent interview with Alex de Campi on Graphic Policy Radio was about her anthology series Twisted Romance. Give a listen.