Underground Film Journal

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Muscles & Fights

By Mike Everleth ⋅ June 30, 2007

Muscles & Fights

Confining it’s stories that revolve around exactly what the title says, Muscles & Fights turns out to be a great concept for a comic book anthology. It’s vague enough that the creators are free enough to explore a wide variety of themes and plots, but also restrictive enough that the stories all hang together nicely. Publishers Bud Burgy and Amado Rodriguez were also lucky enough to receive such a good stash of quality submissions.

There is, of course, the concern that sending out the call for stories with muscles and fights would result in just a pile of superhero parodies, which as Steven Grant says so eloquently in this Permanent Damage column:

[Superhero parodies are] like kicking a one-eyed one-legged dog in its blind side. They don’t add anything to the discussion, they’re usually an insult to the few people at least trying to do something new and interesting with the genre, and they almost always give off the ripe odor of someone who really does want to be doing superhero comics but wants to be thought of as cutting edge too.

That said, there are a few superhero tales in Muscles & Fights, but are more in the vein of light-hearted romps and not out-and-out parodies, so there’s no need to pick on them. Actually, the book — divided into fight “Rounds,” which is a clever conceit — starts out with the most out-and-out superhero parody, “The SuperMarket Vigilante” by Danno Klanosky. But it has a couple of pretty good gags and realistic, not cartoony, blocky and scratchy art, plus good fight scene blocking that makes it a fun read.

The other superhero stories include Leith St. John’s Mary Margaret Marvel adventure “Into the Fire,” which is a religious takeoff on classic Marvel Family adventures and starts out as a classic underground comic tale with fantastic, good-girl art by Leith. Unfortunately, Leith has Matt Chicorel illustrate the main fight scene in the story. Not that Matt’s art is bad, in fact it’s very, very good, but it’s such a jarring change from Leith’s setup that it lessens the impact of the story.

Matt’s own story is of his supergroup Z-Tron, a concept he developed in third or fourth grade (each creator gets his/her own explanatory/advertorial page) that he trotted out again for the book. The story’s slight, much like you’d expect from it’s history, but he’s got really good, energetic art and a good sense of action layout.

And another good, underground-ish superhero take is Earl L. Luckes’s “Mort,” which plays like kind of a cross between Robert Armstrong’s Mickey Rat and Gilbert Shelton’s Wonder Wartog.

The rest of the anthology is a good mixture of various genres, including the absurdist “Mussels and Fights” by Eric Lappegard; a Matrix take-off by Jon Sloan; an amusing beach fight story based on those old Charles Atlas ads by Bob Lipski; a boxing match by Zander and Kevin Cannon and the abstract horror tale “The Goon Squad” by Amado Rodriguez.

But the real standouts are “The Bedland Outskirts,” a manga-style tale by Alberto Rios starring a square-headed little robotic creature with a big mallet. I’m not usually a big manga fan, but this story has some really inventive artwork and character design. It’s a slight adventure, but with a great action sequence that makes it seem bigger than it is.

Then there’s Bud Burgy’s epic fight sequence starring Meatfist and Gronk, two dim-witted goldminers, vs. 12-foot Davis, the angry half-brother to Paul Bunyan. The pair of idiots piss off Davis after spitting tobacco in his eye, so the giant chases them into a Home Depo where Burgy does an excellent job of using the location to escalate the fight as the combatants choose various merchandise to bash the shit out of each other. The set-ups and pay-offs are all really funny and it’s a good story. And it had better be one of the best stories in the book since the whole damn project was Burgy’s idea to begin with.

However, by far the very best story in the book is “Dynamite Pilot” by Spanky Cermak, young desert nomad’s journey into manhood as he takes on his tribe’s role as a living weapon against their airborne enemies. It’s a starkly drawn, sci-fi adventure with a Moebius vibe to it, but not aping the legendary French cartoonists style. The most original and inventive entry in the anthology, Cermak really stands out as the talent to watch here.

Muscles & Fights is a real quality package. Burgy and Rodriguez’s goal here is to help pimp out his fellow Midwest cartoonists talents, and pretty much everyone steps up to show off their best work. Good idea, excellently executed. Great stuff.

To buy Muscles & Fights, please visit the anthology’s official site.