I’ve been a fan of MMA for quite some time. While my enthusiasm has waned in recent years, I still enjoy turning on the tv and catching the occasional fight. The sport, much like comics, has had a rocky relationship with the “outside” world. Both have been seen as juvenile and corrupting at various times. Both have also been accepted to become drivers in entertainment (ironically, also dominated by a few brands). Kill a Man is the latest comic to bring the world of MMA to the page. Unlike previous attempts, the focus isn’t so much about the punches and grappling but the fighters themselves. It delivers depth in character we haven’t really seen up to this point.
Written by Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Kill a Man takes us through a new generation of fighter, James Bellyi, impacted by the in-ring death of his father. James is also gay and not out. In a world of machismo, sexuality is still a touchy subject and when James is outed, his world is turned upside down.
Orlando and Johnson deliver the takedowns and knee kicks but they also focus on James’ journey of being outed and the rejection it brings. Bellyi’s father was killed in the ring as payback for homophobic slurs directed at his opponent. James himself is deeply repressed. He has hidden his sexuality from those closest to him. That’s partially due to the world of MMA that he has trained for his entire life. It’s also due to the homophobic views of his mother who blames a “gay man” for killing her husband.
While I have only been able to read the first half, the two creators have delivered a fantastic graphic novel. As the story progresses they make sure to add layers to James’ character. We get a brutal tale in both the fighting but also James’ world. As his upbringing is revealed we’re given hints as to why he’s hidden his sexuality beyond what happened to his father.
Orlando and Kennedy don’t dive too much into the foreign language of holds and moves of the MMA world. There is more than enough for those who enjoy the matchups. There’s enough detail and focus on moves or even how to fighters compare that there’s an authenticity to it. It’s still accessible for that are not familiar or lacking depth. I don’t need to know what an armbar is. I might understand taking someone to the ground. That’s a difference between being for a wide audience and the MMA diehards.
The art by Al Morgan and lettering by Jim Campbell are fantastic. There’s a gritty dirtiness to it all that fits James’ brutal life. It’s not just the fighting, it’s his upbringing and the world around him. There’s the punch but there’s also the sex which is more carnal than about connection. That aspect of James’ life delivers visuals that make it feel as cold as the fights in the ring about the physical dance than a connection otherwise. There’s a rawness in the fighting and in James’ personal life that the visuals emphasize.
Kill a Man has amazing potential and I’m excited to read the second half of the graphic novel. The first is so good and follows what I liked about the flow of films like Rocky or Creed. Yes, there’s some formula to it but there’s a focus on James as a person that’s missing from so many other stories. By the end of these initial 64 pages, I understand who he was and more importantly, I wanted to see where he, and the story, are going from there.
Kill a Man is set to be released June 3, 2020 and can be pre-ordered from shops.
Story: Steve Orlando, Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Art: Al Morgan Letterer: Jim Campbell
AfterShock provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review