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‘Creed: The Next Round’ TPB (review)

Written by LaToya Morgan & Jai Jamison
Art by Joe Jaro, Valentine de Landro
Paris Alleyne & Lea Caballero
Published by BOOM! Studios

 

Recently on his sports podcast The Right Time, host Bomani Jones declared Rocky Balboa “the single most likeable movie character ever created.” greatest movie character of all time.

He may not be wrong; the character endured six of his own films from 1976 to 2006 by offering a little of everything to everyone.

The first film won an Oscar and married a romantic drama to brutal, bloody fistfights.

The series continued to morph with the times into a full-on, living comic book. Among its most outlandish twists and turns, a boxing exhibition on Christmas 1985 helped end the Cold War.

The Rocky movies also trade on some pretty blatant racial stereotypes, like boxing itself: Apollo Creed as stand-in for Muhammad Ali, then still seen as “uppity,” arrogant and flashy; or witness the “savage Negro” imagery of Clubber Lang. But they also speak to Rocky’s own questionable white status as a working class Italian-American in the 1970s. It wasn’t by accident, as Jones noted, that Rocky in the original film plays “Summer Madness” by Kool and the Gang on his record player.

Rocky endures because his stories speak to desperate American dreams of making it. They declare the hope that punch by punch, stride by stride, a hero can climb and climb, and perhaps fly – even if only for a moment.

The Creed films, in the hands of Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler, have continued the tradition by refashioning Rocky’s themes for our times. The films speak to fractured family, to the racially discriminatory criminal justice system, to legacy and privilege – or the lack thereof. Adonis Creed stands as a man whose wounds run deep. He’s a nexus of generational traumas that fuel a need to risk it all and a fear of losing it all. The precariousness of status, fame and fortune feel deeply rooted in themes of Black experience.

The three films have explored this in various fashions, and now the four-part comic book series Creed: The Next Round charts new frontiers while continuing to lean on the themes that make the Creed franchise work. This deeply enjoyable comic book packs a ton of ring action and family sparring, with characters that land as hard as the punches.

Creed: The Next Round picks up in 2033 as a teenage Amara Creed has emerged as a promising amateur boxer. She’s quick like her father, and brutal when she needs to be. Yet Adonis keeps holding her back, not letting her go up against higher-ranked fighters in her weight class. The tension is played beautifully between a father who doesn’t see the need for his daughter to go deeper into a sport built on desperation, and a teen girl who just has the fight in her and wants to find her own way to carry the Creed legacy. Amara’s own name carries “immortal” and “everlasting” among its meanings.

That legacy, of course, is threatened – otherwise it wouldn’t be a Creed story, would it? Jamie “Slayer” Pierce is the defending national amateur champion and is gunning openly to take down Amara, including to avenge her grandfather’s own struggle against Apollo Creed. But this story, similar to the Creed movies, dig into the rival fighter’s story. The Next Round employs several artists to depict multiple perspectives in the story, to great effect.

I’d rather not spoil more, but other twists in the story reach back into the Rocky lore to develop multiple points of conflict. They are pulpy in the best way and continue to speak to the Creed themes of legacy and deep-seeded traumas, with characters the Rocky fans likely have been wondering about since the first Creed movie in 2015.

My quibbles are small. I do wish that Bianca as a character has more to do in this story than as a caretaker of the Creed empire and a sounding board for Adonis and Amara. You also have to just suspend your disbelief and live in a world where boxing still rules, including to the extent that average 10-year-olds even know to clown a retired fighter for ducking a title shot 40 years ago, let alone his granddaughter.

On the flipside as a “good” problem, the story and action are so good that I wish I could see the fights in live action!

As Jordan and Coogler continue to cement themselves in the Hollywood firmament, I feel confident we’ll see Amara take the reins and bring women’s boxing to the franchise.

After all, 2033 is just nine years away.

(Have you seen Claressa Shields, the undisputed light middleweight world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist? She’s gotta be in that movie.)

If the film version of Amara that we get in a 2033 movie is even half of what we get in The Next Round and whatever other stories we may get, we’ll be in store for something everlasting, indeed.

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