Brooklyn Gladiator #1 doesn’t really have its narrative hook until the last few pages of the first issue, but writers Dan Fogler and Andrew Harrison and artist/comics legend Simon Bisley go full cyberpunk and craft a world controlled by government surveillance, souped-up android cops, and drugs that keep you compliant. Or if you’re protagonist, John Miller, they show you freaky imagery, hold conversations entirely telepathically, and have visions of the future. Brooklyn Gladiator is an extended version of an establishing shot of the film as Fogler and Harrison’s pulpy, yet wry narration and Bisley’s crazy-ass, very Heavy Metal-meets-no-holds-barred-2000 AD visuals set up a future world and our entry point to it before letting shit hit the fan on the final page.
Simon Bisley’s art is the real draw of Brooklyn Gladiator #1 and honestly the sole reason I picked up the book. And it’s safe to say that he is still at his Slaine and Lobo levels in this title even if Fogler and Harrison navel gaze a bit at times. From the opening page, he crowds his pages with over-the-top bloody, sexy, or grotesque imagery that capture this fucked up dystopian world better than any dialogue or narrative captions. Bisley does his usual Suicide Girl-esque, inked attractive woman deal with Johnny’s neglected love interest (Actually, more of a fuck buddy) Cassandra. She definitely doesn’t pass the “sexy lamp” test and is there to emphasize that Johnny yearns for a long lost woman (cloyingly) named Hope from the past. It’s par for the course for Bisley’s biker club/tattoo convention aesthetic sense like Blade Runner, but set at the local titty bar that obnoxiously advertises itself on the album-oriented rock radio station.
However, Bisley’s more memorable work is with the Blob, a character who lives a life of ease and unlimited drug/food/fluid use in return for the government using him as a blood bag. Blob and Johnny have unrelenting contempt for each other. Blob sees Johnny as a throwback, a lost cause, and an analog man in a beyond digital era, which connects with the art’s little homages to old school action heroes like John McClane crawling through ventilation shafts. On the other hand, Johnny sees Blob as obviously corpulent and disgusting and even hallucinates him speaking in Huttese. Dan Fogler and Andrew Harrison craft an entirely pragmatic relationship between them with Johnny getting Blob access to better drugs while Blob is his fixer for gladiator matches. Their interactions contain some of the writer duo’s best and funniest dialogue coming across as a cyberpunk stoner comedy at times with Blob yearning for the day of rolling blunts among other pleasures.
Simon Bisley’s designs for the “nannies”, or authoritative police of futuristic Brooklyn, are void of all humanity and fit the snarky insults that Fogler and Harrison have Johnny hurl at them. There are definite anti-fascist and ACAB vibes to Brooklyn Gladiator, which is refreshing and even cathartic at times especially as Johnny’s unique, basically EMP abilities void their surveillance abilities. Because of the drug addled, shifting POV of this issue, I didn’t get a full handle on his powers, but Bisley drawing cops short out while Johnny figures out who ratted on him is pure fun to look at. Bisley’s chase scenes have real energy and super charged, organic colors with body parts and bits of machinery flying everywhere. I can’t wait to see his takes on actual gladiatorial combat in upcoming issues.
If you’re a Simon Bisley fan and want to see him strut his storytelling stuff on something more than a (solid) Lobo/Harley Quinn crossover comic, then Brooklyn Gladiator #1 is the book you’re waiting on. It’s has all his virtues and vices filtered through a dystopian/exploitation movie lens. Story-wise, the comic isn’t 100% up to snuff, but Johnny Miller has an almost charming underdog streak to go with drug habit and futuristic stoner philosophizing. I really just wanna see him kick some more cop and Nazi ass as this first issue is really only an appetizer.
Story: Dan Fogler and Andrew Harrison
Art: Simon Bisley Colors: Simon Bisley Letters: Crank!
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.5 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read
Heavy Metal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review