Writer: Steve Horton
Artist/Cover artist: David Ahn
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.50 CAN
There’s no denying that Japanese pop culture has taken Western society by storm. It only seems fair. Japan has had and continues to have its own fascination with our own pop culture. But nowhere in North America is the influence of Japanese culture more evidence than in comics. Manga hasn’t always appealed to me in the past; books I appreciated tend to be the exception rather than a rule. But there’s no denying the power manga has. I think I appreciate that influence when it’s more subtle, but that’s not the case with this original American comic that strives for a genuine Japanese feeling. The good news is that writer Steve Horton’s script cuts to the chase, getting to the core plot while offering an accessible tone. Artist David Ahn’s style is more than just inspired by manga but manages to achieve what I’d say is a convincing facsimile of Japanese comic art. My general disinterest in manga and Amerimanga actually didn’t come into play all that much when I read this inaugural issue. Instead, I found that the derivative nature of the building blocks of the story alienated me more. Horton’s rather basic story seems too familiar, and if a new title by an untested creative team is going to stand out, it needs to be different, to be unique, but Strongarm‘s debut issue doesn’t really stand out. The storytelling is capable and clear, but so far, it’s not compelling.
In a future controlled by the powerful force known as the Overlord, twin brothers Rob and Nick lead radically different lives. Nick has joined a resistance movement and delights in creating chaos in the corrupt but clean city that serves as the Overlord’s base of operations. Meanwhile, Rob lives within the system, working as a courier for the Overlord’s government. But that isn’t enough to keep him safe, he realizes, as he runs afoul of a cybernetically enhanced killer. Surviving the attack might prove to be a curse, though, as the assassin’s weird, techno-organic arms graft themselves onto his form, bringing with them the violence and madness that seemed to fuel their previous owner’s actions.
The letter I received accompanying my advanced review copy indicates that among artist David Ahn’s credits are such Marvel titles as Agent X and Taskmaster. What that tells me is he was once (and perhaps still is, who knows) employed by the folks at Udon Studio, best known these days for its Street Fighter comics. With that pedigree, it comes as no surprise that he boasts a strong manga look to his art. My biggest qualm with the art is that the opening, action-packed scene climaxes in a thoroughly unnecessary (and hard to believe) level of gore. Though the two main characters are purported to be in their late 20s, they look a great deal younger, and that’s not a bad thing. There’s a youthful energy to the book, and the more gruesome visuals fly in the face of that energy.
Ahn’s art is typical of the sort of manga art I often find a bit off-putting. There’s a major emphasis on detail, from the backgrounds to the weird cybernetic devices from which the comic derives its title. The detail is sometimes impressive, and I think Ahn serves the story well by portraying the cyber-arm weapons as being slithering, alien and organic in nature and appearance. But they’re also so organic and detailed so as to look completely unreal; the arms are so overwhelming visually that they lack credibility.
The manga influence isn’t confined to the artwork. It’s clear Horton wanted to tell an Amerimanga story, as the plot elements are typical manga fare. The sci-fi cityscape, the “Strongarm” weapons, the twin schtick and the impossibly hot (and technologically enhanced) female characters… it was all tailor-made for a Japanese presentation.
Brothers on opposite sides of the law. An innocent soul, infected by technology and driven to commit acts he doesn’t intend. The love interest, torn between an allegiance to her family and to the man she loves. All of these elements turn up in this book, and all of them feel like parts of a machine, not storytelling elements that flow from creativity. Strongarm feels like the answer at the end of a formula. At the end of the equation, X equals this. Mind you, this is just the first episode in a series, so there’s time for the book to distinguish itself in some way. I did appreciate the fact that Horton throws his readers right into the middle of the action. We don’t know why the machine man is after Rob, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Horton doesn’t waste time getting to the point that the reader already sees on the cover. 5/10
This comic is slated for release Feb. 28.