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‘Cage Hero’ (review)

CageHeroCoverCage Hero TPB
Written by Kevin Eastman, Ian Parker,
Mark Mastrandrea, Rik Hoskin
Illustrated by Renalto Rei
Colored by Ross Campbell
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
ISBN-13: 978-1-5241-0000-1 | Price $14.99
Release date: July 21

When MMA star Randy Couture fought Tim Sylvia in March of 2008, he did so against the wishes of the MMA faithful. People were concerned for his safety as Couture was 43 years old and coming out of retirement to battle the much larger champion who stands at 6 feet, 8 inches, tips the scales at 300 lbs. and is 13 years his junior.

Couture rocked the monstrous Sylvia with his first punch, eight seconds into the fight, and dominated the entire affair in an awe inspiring performance to capture his third UFC Heavyweight Championship. That night, “Captain America” went from hero to legend.

High school student and wrestling sensation Ryder Stone learns about his true destiny when he joins a super-powered team of mixed martial arts fighters and strives to live up to his adopted name, Legend, in the pages of Dynamite Entertainment’s Cage Hero. The foreword, written by reputable MMA reporter Mike Straka and the dedication, penned by one of Cage Hero‘s owners and former UFC Middleweight title holder Chris Wediman spend some time conveying the book’s MMA sincerity along with propagating the brand’s mantra “the hero comes from within.”

The combative aspects within the narrative does the same as the protagonists’ skills and preparation mirror those of legitimate fighters. Stone’s combative specialty is wrestling, but he trains in other disciplines, such as boxing, in order to become a complete fighter and a true Cage Hero.

Character and world building are done very well and serve the story well as some of the more cheesy aspects are introduced later on. The first chapter/issue is a day in the life of Ryder Stone who is kind of an awkward teenager socially, but is an absolute wizard on the mat.

He has trouble seeing things beyond the abstract, but that doesn’t stop him from lending a helping hand when a school yard bully rears his ugly head. Stone’s story gets more interesting with each turn of the page as flashbacks of his family’s past are woven in; setting up bread crumbs for the super hero action to come. Stone’s grandfather and teacher are considerate people, which makes the reader connect with them because of how they make our hero better.

A massive shift in tone occurs at the peak of Stone’s personal struggle as an evildoer busts through a window, and lines such as “I thought I smelled your stench when I entered the building” and “It’s time to fulfill your destiny as a cage hero” occupy the character’s dialog. Think of Doctor Claw trading barbs with a 1966 Batman, and it sounds like a concept too cheesy to be taken seriously, however, it works because at this point, the book isn’t taking itself too seriously. The new tone is not underprepared or overcooked, it’s just right, which makes the story more enjoyable.

Renalto Rei’s artwork exhibits an abundance of energy. Layouts, character work, and action scenes fill the pages with narrative substance and impressive visuals. The coloring could have been better as the palettes used didn’t match the atmosphere and flow of the story as more vibrant colors would have improved the artistic presentation.

I have been reading comics virtually my entire life, and I’ve been an MMA enthusiast since the day Tank Abbott floored John Matua with an onslaught of punches at UFC 6 in 1995 and the Cage Hero logo on the cover immediately drew me in because I recognize it from the slew of fighters the company has sponsored over the years.

Outside of those things, there is nothing else that would either draw someone in or keep them engaged in the story past the dramatic shift in tone. The purposeful cheesiness of the plot’s execution was welcomed but it could be a turn off to readers who don’t realize it early on.

Kevin Eastman’s name is on the marquee for this project, but I wonder how much input he imparted past the concept stage. I would like to see what writer and MMA diehard Blair Butler could do with this concept as she presented a thoughtful and grounded comic in her caged fable, Heart.

Overall, Cage Hero is no different than what wrestling, football, basketball and other sports have done with comics. It’s a fun enough read that you won’t remember that long after putting it down.

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