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Mendes, Melissa (editor) – Can’t Lose: A Friday Night Lights Fanzine

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Can’t Lose

I’ve read plenty of anthologies over the years that I’ve been writing reviews here, but very few of them could qualify as a love letter. This comic here? That’s exactly what it is. This is 20 of some of the best artists going right now, and they all have one thing in common: an obvious love of the tv show Friday Night Lights. If you’ve never heard of this show, or if you dismissed it out of hand because “it’s about high school football,” all I can say is that you missed out. There’s still time to fix your mistake, as it’s still on Netflix as of May 2016; just watch the first few episodes and try not to get hooked. Or maybe the fact that so many great artists came together for this project will clue you in to how great of a show it was, I don’t know. Does it seem like I’m not reviewing the stories? Yeah, I’ll get to that. I’m just trying to convert the last few decent people in the world who haven’t already seen this show. Frankly, I remember most of the stories as giant hearts on the page, so it’s tough to write anything mildly intelligent about that. OK, I’ll flip through this again. Highlights include the Tim Riggins cut-out doll as the centerfold (comes with different outfits!), Tim Riggins in the year 2050, a story about young Billy Riggins, the conversion of a skeptic into a fan of the show, how the team playbook got leaked to a rival, a growing rage of somebody trying to convert friends as they get increasingly sleepy while watching the show, and Coach Taylor sitting on the Iron Throne. Seriously, if nothing else, just look at that list of artists and give it a shot for that reason alone. Or do it the right way: watch the series, then go back and enjoy this fanzine. I’m not going to close with the team motto right here, but know that I am thinking it.

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Derry Green, Delaine (editor) – The Portable Not My Small Diary

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The Portable Not My Small Diary

Hey kids, or anybody who has started reading comics in the last few years? Are you interested in the history of mini comics, why they’re such a source of passion for so many people? Well, maybe not in numbers, but in level of interest and dedication in following certain artists? Your answer is this volume. If you have no interest in the history, away with you! This one can be for the old timers. This is a collection of the best of the “Not My Small Diary” anthology, and if you read small press comics in the 90’s and 00’s, you will recognize plenty of these names. In fact, good luck not getting lost in a Google hole or trying to figure out what so many of these people are up to these days. Notable names include (but are not limited to) Jeff Zenick, Dan Zettwoch, Patrick Dean, Raina Telgemeier, Jesse Reklaw, Carrie McNinch, Sam Spina, Roberta Gregory, Kurt Wolfgang… you know what, there are just too damned many names, and they’re all in the tags, so check that part out. If any of those names made you say “hey, I wonder what they’re up to these days” then this book is for you. These are mostly snippets of stories, but they’re all complete by themselves. Sometimes the stories follow a theme, like notable dates or moments in their lives, but really they’re all over the place. If it seems like I’m avoiding getting into specifics, that is entirely the case. If you were around for all these artists when they first started, you’re going to get lost in this instantly. If not, this is an excellent way for you to figure out what the big deal was about these people all along. I guess it’s possible that it’s the nostalgia talking and that people might not connect to these stories now, but screw that. These are tales of human weakness (and occasionally triumph), and those stories are universal and timeless. Most of the original issues of this series are out of print, so this is your best option all around. The book itself is $7.50 if you see Delaine at a convention, but if not $10 should be enough to cover the shipping, and I really can’t recommend this enough. It’s rare for any anthology not to have a weak story or two, but these are all golden.

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Various Artists – Cringe

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Cringe

Quick, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you. Now imagine yourself writing and drawing a comic story about it. That right there should make you cringe, which means you’re in luck, as that’s what this anthology is all about! This book has right around 30 small press artists, some new and some who have been around for awhile, who are willing to share some shameful incident from their past. I don’t think anything in here will get anybody put in jail, but it’s hard not to cringe while reading some of these. I’m not going to review every story because there are so damned many of them (and for a measly $8!), but the highlights include Shaenon K. Garrity wetting herself while out with a group of other cartoonists (including a big name guy, but I won’t spoil the surprise; I particularly loved the way she ended her strip), Sam Spina’s unfortunate method for drinking a rum shot when he met the Bacardi girls, Adam Pasion’s particularly gruesome retelling of an incident involving a finger in the eye, Geoff Vasile dodging a bullet (not literally), Chad Essley and his series of embarrassing moments (hard to top the one where he volunteered to breakdance at school on stage), Fred Noland’s theories on some crayons he used to own, Chad Woody and his racist former roommate, Box Brown and his former habit of eating light bulbs (it’s not quite as life-threatening as it sounds), Stephen Notley and his experience of being “that guy” at a comic convention (you know the one, the guy who gets up to ask a rambling and pointless question and has no idea how to get out of it once he gets started), and Sam Henderson’s experiences with having seizures while surrounded by strangers. It’s a damned fine mix of stories, and at a ridiculously cheap price. Save yourself the embarrassment of not owing this anthology of embarrassment! Ugh, I feel dirty for saying that. I’ll let myself out… $8

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Spina, Sam – Tarn #5: Bich Bird

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Tarn #5: Bich Bird

Warning! Don’t flip this comic over unless you want to have the ending spoiled for you. Such as it is, and it’s not like knowing this one detail would ruin your enjoyment of the rest of the series, but I thought I’d better throw that out there. Anyway, the secret of Tarn is revealed here, at least a little bit. Either that or it was never really a mystery, it was just a reading comprehension problem on my end. Things start off with the aftermath of the crash of Titanic 2, and all of our heroes have managed to survive the flight. Just barely in some cases, but they all made it. The Bich Bird comes down to make fun of the guy who planned Titanic 2, Sans finally gets somebody to understand him, Pigboss finds love, and Mr. Futts (after coming back from the dead) runs off in search of as many butts as he can find. Frankly, I see a spin-off comic for Mr. Futts, as we don’t see him again until the end of the comic, and his entire rampage is left to the imagination of the reader. Sam did a nice job of bringing this odd crew together and somehow managing to end all of their stories in a satisfying fashion. I’m still waiting for him to make a crappy comic, but so far the man has been a damned comics master, and you should be buying his new books as they come out to keep giving him reasons to make these funny books. Because sooner or later he’ll take his talents to a field where he is financially compensated in a manner appropriate to his talents, so let’s delay that day as long as possible! $1 (I think $5 for the set, that makes sense anyway)

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Spina, Sam – Tarn #4: Titanic 2

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Tarn #4: Titanic 2

Oh, so that’s where all this was heading. Still no clue about the title, but there’s still one more issue to figure that out. This time around we meet Mr. Harland, the shirtless person (?) from the front cover. He has commissioned the Titanic 2, which is the largest airplane ever built. When asked about the negative connotations of that name, he merely points out the box office totals from the film with the name “Titanic” to prove his point that it’s a good idea. From there we learn that the entire cast of characters has ended up on this flight by one way or another, and we get the first hilarious interaction between the three characters from the earlier issues. The comic ends with the airplane very shakily taking off, and with a name like that I can’t imagine that the flight is going to end well. But that’s all to be discovered in the next issue and, once again, there’s no reason in the world for you not to be reading this. Find $5 in the couch cushions or something, send it to Sam, and enjoy. But maybe make it paper money first, as otherwise the postage would get ridiculous… $1

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Spina, Sam – Tarn #3: Sans San

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Tarn #3: Sans San

Well, we’re at the halfway point in the Tarn saga (I’m aware that it doesn’t make any sense to call five issues of a mini comic a saga, but I’m sticking with it anyway). And characters are starting to interact with each other a bit more, so it’s clearly all leading to a dramatic conclusion with them all pointing guns at each other. I haven’t read the last two issues yet, obviously, but I am so very hoping that that is true. Anyway, this time around we meet Sans San, and his thing is that he’s always late. And he speaks Japanese, or possibly gibberish (according to another character), but I’d need a translator to know for sure. He has a job interview, plenty of time to get there and he is determined not to be late for once. But! As he throws up his arms in celebration, his keys go flying off straight into the bag of the guy who eats butts from the first issue. Which might not have been that bad, but said guy was riding on a scooter at the time, so he’s out of earshot before Sans is even able to register what happened. The rest of the issue is a desperate chase involving a language barrier, the constraints of honor and an unexpected team-up. OK, maybe it’s expected because they’re both in this issue, but the way in which they teamed up was still unexpected. Another solid issue, one more reason for you to check out this series. $1

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Spina, Sam – Tarn #2: Pigboss

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Tarn #2: Pigboss

Oh, so THAT’S what Tarn is. Not that I have any idea of the larger significance of it, or how it ties in to all of these comics, but at least this issue mentions Tarn. Oh hi, did you not read the first issue and/or the review for the first issue? Well, in that case this might be a little confusing to you, even if this issue features an entirely different cast of characters from the first issue. This time around it’s Pigboss, who is filming the final scenes for some kind of action movie. He’s more than a little bit of an asshole, and he says his catchphrase whether or not the cameras are rolling. Still, things are going pretty well for him, except the occasional minor annoyance like not having the right food at the craft services, until he gets a letter from the head of the movie studio. This letter does not go over well at all with Pigboss, and it’s clear that a confrontation of some kind is in the cards. I’m still thoroughly enjoying this series, which is not a shock, as I’ve loved everything else Sam has done. It’s probably a bit early for me to tell you to go ahead and buy this whole series when I’ve only read the first two issues, but eh, what the hell, buy the whole series. It’s only $5, and unless Sam’s brain fell out along the way I feel confident in saying that it’ll be worth it in the end. $1 ($5 for the set)

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Spina, Sam – Tarn #1: Mr. Futtts

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Tarn #1: Mr. Futtts

OK, new policy: I’ll be reviewing the remaining four issues of this series every Thursday until it’s done. Hell, I may convince myself to review them all today before I finish writing this review. Can Sam Spina do no wrong? It certainly seems that way. This is the story of Mr. Futtts. What’s his deal? He eats butts. So simple, yet so beautiful. Things start off a little rough, as Mr. Futtts is trying to psyche himself up to some unknown task. We soon learn that he’s a substitute teacher for the day, and his only duty is to get the kids to read. We also quickly learn that he has a criminal record for previously eating butts, so this job looks like a last chance for him. He takes over the class, panicked, trying to reason with himself, but things quickly fall apart from there. And then he sees an old lady, butt in the air, tending to her garden… and that’s where I have to stop talking about the story, as this is a wee little comic, after all. What does Tarn mean? Why do the other issues seem to have brand new characters in them? How does all of this come together into a series, or does it? These are all questions to be answered later, starting next week. In the meantime, if this was the only comic of this series, or indeed the only comic that Sam had ever made (luckily for us that is not the case), I’d still tell you to read it an enjoy. So do it! $5 (for the whole set of five books)

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Various Artists – The Hic and Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor Volume One: The United States

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The Hic and Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor Volume One: The United States

Do you like your comics funny? Do you like some or most of the creators I listed in the tags section (right below this post, in big letters, you can’t miss them)? Then this one should be an easy call for you. There, now that I’ve made that case, I’ll go about my afternoon… wait, you want something of substance? Egh, fine. Laurent Barnett does the “Me Likes You” comics (which you should already be reading on a regular basis), and she was one of the editors, so there, that’s substantive. Strips in here include Noah Van Sciver’s fever dreams (both with and without music), funny jokes that aren’t really jokes by Bort, Martha Keavney’s tales of a pet human, Nikki Burch showing us that saying “that’s what she said” too many times will end up with you getting what you deserve, Anne Emond’s cat style, Sam Spina’s ridiculously awesome sex comic, a couple of pages of single panel jokes by Sam Henderson (which should be worth the price of admission right there), Grant Snider’s fears and feats (he had four pages of strips and I don’t want to ruin any of them), KC Green’s depressed fish, Jane Mai’s dream of male lingerie, Nathan Bulmer’s tale of ninja tricks, Julia Wertz’ attempt to get serious and Ian Anderson’s tale of a bear that’s just trying to fit in. But wait, there’s more! And you can discover it for yourself if you buy this. Unless you just have an unnatural hatred for all anthologies, which I guess I could almost understand, but it makes no sense to hate the good ones too, and this is one of the good ones. Hell, just pick three of the names of people who contributed to this, go to their websites and see what there is to see. If you don’t laugh once then I release you from your duty to buy this, but seriously, good luck with that. $10

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Gennis, Emi (editor) – Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends

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Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends

You should have a pretty easy time knowing whether or not you’d be inclined to like this book from the title alone, and I’m happy to tell you that the contents more than live up to it. Emi has been doing mini comics on this theme for a few years now, and she took her chance to edit this anthology and ran with it, doing a really fantastic job of picking out/accepting these stories. I should say up front that I have no patience for those stupid “ghost hunting” shows with the shaky cams and the loud noises and won’t believe that aliens have visited us until I see solid proof (which is not the same thing as declaring that no other life exists in the universe), but overall this isn’t that type of book. These are all, as Emi says in the introduction, unsolved mysteries, so the reader doesn’t get the satisfaction of getting the story neatly tied up in a bow by the end. Instead you’re left wondering what the hell happened for these 32 stories. If you’re a naturally curious person and/or at all interested in the weird and bizarre then you’ve probably already stopped reading this and ordered a copy. For those of who are too polite to quit reading in the middle of the review (and it’s OK if you do, I’ll never know), subjects include a mysterious gelatinous goo that rained down on a town, the monster with 21 faces, an unexplained shower of meat from the sky, an arcade game that quickly came and went in 1981 under mysterious circumstances, a tumor that was bigger than the carrier, Gef (of which I will say no more but this may have been the most intriguing tale in the book), that weird hum in the air that some people can hear all the time, the Nain Rouge and his continuing destruction of Detroit, the money pit of Oak Island (which some bored billionaire should look into), creepy kids with black eyes trying to enter homes, the Leatherman and theories of who he might have been, unsolved murders at a campsite, the former Prime Minister of Australia vanishing while swimming, the missing body of Addie Mae Collins, why 9 campers in Siberia ran from the safety of their tent (sometimes barefoot) and why they never went back to it, two bodies and their lead masks, Rasputin (an oldie but a goodie), Frederick Valentich and the UFO that seemed to by toying with him, D.B. Cooper and his disappearance (it’s an ever funnier story to anybody who watched Justified this season), a bridge where 600 dogs have committed suicide, the Axeman, and a serious skeleton in the closet of Orson Welles (possibly). DC comics used to do a series of “Big Books” on various subjects, and after seeing this I’d suggest that they start it up again and put Emi in charge. Not every story was perfect, granted, but good luck not having several of these stories haunt your dreams. Also good luck on not taking to the internet to learn more about them, as I already know how I’m spending the rest of my afternoon. And look at that pile of talent in the tags section! Why would you possibly need any more convincing to check this out? $12

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Spina, Sam – Spinadoodles: The Third Year

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Spinadoodles: The Third Year

Oh hi diary comics! As always, if you have some kind of personal vendetta against diary comics you should probably get a better class of enemy, but you also already know that this collection isn’t for you. But I loved this pile of strips, and you’re bound to too if you like Sam’s other work or just think it’s worth your while to laugh a few dozen times (at least) while reading comics. One thing I should get out of the way early on: Sam mentions in one of his strips that he got a bad review from The Comics Journal (and I naturally can’t find it now, which should tell you again how hefty this collection is) where they call it repetitive and something else that I didn’t agree with. I don’t understand how that’s a legitimate line of complaint, as ALL diary strips are repetitive. It’s not like any of the cartoonists doing these are documenting their time in chemo after getting cancer. These are mostly guys or ladies (actually mostly guys from what I’ve seen, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong) in their 20’s or early 30’s, usually not satisfied with their job and/or their place in life, and that situation can get either better or worse as the year goes along. There’s bound to be some repetition in that. At least Sam takes a few strips in this one to openly question the motivation for what he’s doing and if he can get anything out of it. He stopped doing the diary strip after this one, and there’s a thorough explanation as to why that happened in the end. Anyway, how about the actual strips? Right away I love the fact that he puts tiny strips about the life of a fly on the inside flaps of this book. Hey, why waste empty space? Subjects in these strips include hanging out with friends, puking and/or trying not to puke, adventures with his cat, conversations with his girlfriend, going out to see shows, getting to meet his comics hero (James Kochalka), chatting with Siri, feeling morally guilty about playing a certain video game, not having time to finish Skyrim, and the big old cliffhanger at the end. Oh, they’re about significantly more things than that, as there are 365ish strips in here, but why would you want me to describe them all to you? Sam has a knack of being effortlessly funny, and that kind of thing really shines through on a daily basis like this. Sure, there are strips where he’s obviously a bit rushed (and he often comments on that fact), and a few that feel phoned in, but who cares? A good 4/5 of this is thoroughly entertaining, and I’m probably being conservative with that number. Check out his website and read a few for yourselves if you don’t believe me, and it also looks like he’s drifting back into the daily diary territory again, or at least drawing them a few times a week. $7

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Spina, Sam – The Frantastic Four

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The Frantastic Four

Do you automatically steer clear of any small press comics that you think might be super hero parodies? You do? Come closer to the screen so I can punch you. OK, maybe it’s not always a terrible rule, but you might as well punch yourself in the face if you skip out on this one. So much comic for $5! Things start off with Frank Frantastic being picked to fly to Neptune to check out some strange life sign readings. Frank has always lived in the shadow of his more successful older brother, who “died” in an explosion years before (Frank never bought the official story). He makes it to Nepture, discovers a substance that appears to be alien in nature, and then discovers the creature who was shitting out this other substance. Frank decides that this creature is too much like him to be turned over the government (even though, brilliantly, the creature never says a word), so he makes a plan to sneak him out of the shuttle and back to his apartment, using the hilariously unlikely means of putting a sheet over the creature’s head and leading him out of the space center. Once back at his apartment Frank introduces this creature to his roommate (a robot made years earlier by Frank’s brother), the creature is confronted by another creature who lived underground (he came to the surface after sensing the “evil” nature of the alien), the alien is given a name (“Celery”), and Frank draws the conclusion that they are now the Frantastic Four and that they should fight crime for a living. The rest of this damned hefty book deals with them trying out a number of different careers (as it turns out that nobody pays you to fight crime in such a fashion, and there really isn’t all that much crime to fight to begin with), showing what happened to the crew a couple of years after the events of the comic, and an epilogue where it shows how their lives ended up years later. This makes the possibility of a second issue of this series unlikely, which is a damned shame, but you basically have an entire series crammed into this one comic anyway. I’m increasingly of the opinion that Sam can do no wrong, and this comic has damned near set that opinion in stone. Buy this comic, laugh a whole bunch of times, feel better about the world for a bit! $5

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Spina, Sam – Daggurs: Troubled Youth

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Daggurs: Troubled Youth

It always makes my job so easy when I can use basically any page of a comic for a sample and still have it be hilarious. That’ll probably give away my opinion of the book right there, but how much suspense were you expecting in a review? Get a grip on yourself. Anyway, this is mostly a 24 hour comic (“mostly” meaning that Sam drew the whole thing in 24 hours, then went back in after the time limit to add some greys, which still counts in my book) about the life of a man/creature named Daggur. He is absolutely awesome and the idol of the children of his area, but he has a crisis of conscience when it dawns on him just what he’s done after the children praise his killing of a sea creature. So he goes back and examines why he is what he is, which leads to an eventual confrontation with said cause, and the introduction int my life of the word “whangel.” Sorry, you’re going to have to read the comic to find out what that means, although I guess it’s possible if you just break the word down a bit. Oh, and the last page of this book is something that should be put in a time capsule to show to future generations/our eventual alien conquerors, as it sums this whole “life” thing up pretty well. Buy it, read it, laugh. $2

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Spina, Sam – Grandma Stories

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Grandma Stories

It’s always a good sign when I go to a creator’s website to check on the price of the comic I’m going to review and end up spending a good 10 minutes thoroughly enjoying the strips. Sam also does a (mostly, it seems) daily four panel strip about his life and, from what I can tell from 10 minutes of reading, it’s fantastic. But we’re here to talk about this comic, not his apparent awesomeness in general. This comic is exactly what the title implies: it’s Sam having conversations on the phone with his grandma (with a short phone conversation with his mom thrown in for some history on his grandma) as she tells him stories of her life for his 24 hour comic. It didn’t technically end up being a 24 hour comic, as he apparently didn’t finish inking 9 pages out of the 24 during the time period, but this comic has an amazing level of detail for a 24 hour book. Backgrounds a’plenty, and it only looked a little rushed in a few isolated spots. Anybody who has read a few of these timed books knows that it can get ugly, and this book had none of those problems. Anyway, stories from his grandma include her collecting supplies for the WWII war effort (when she was a kid), trying to convince her young brother to like his school, an incident with a sled and some barbed wire at the bottom of a hill, and collecting smooth stones to use as toys. There are also a few bits thrown in about life as it’s happening to her now (these are phone conversations, after all) and Sam eventually concedes that she’s told him way too many stories to put into this book. That sounds like a graphic novel to me, as everything they talked about was thoroughly entertaining, but what do I know? There’s also a nice color epilogue on the back page where Sam talks about spending time with his grandparents when he was a kid. It’s a thoroughly engaging little book, and don’t get scared off because you think this one might be too sweet for you. It’s touching, sure, but also funny as hell, and that one always wins out for me. $3

Spina, Sam – Fight

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Fight

Sometimes my rule about never listing any spoilers really hinders some of the points I should be making. This comic was damned near a masterpiece before it reached that ending, which kicked it up a few notches. Mega-masterpiece? Masterpieceapocalypse? Make up your own awesome word, it won’t be as great as this ending. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. Fight is the story of a professional wrestler/monster named Fight. He’s having a good run as champion until a female version of himself called Super Fight comes onto the scene. He falls instantly in love and she takes advantage of his distraction to beat him and win his title. It turns out that Fight managed to get Super Fight pregnant during their kiss (hey, they’re monsters, who’s to say how they reproduce?) and she has a baby called Fight 64. This thing seems to exist purely to cause mayhem in various situations (I would direct your attention in particular to the chapter dealing with the pathetic creature known as the Boobstadon). Meanwhile Fight is down on his luck after losing his title, attempting to get a series of humiliating jobs, and Super Fight seems to be trying to drink herself to death. All three of these characters stay away from each other until right near the end and, as I’ve mentioned, what an ending it is. The book is a damned epic, and this in a book that I assumed would be merely funny with a bit of a punch-’em-up thrown in, which is what I get for assuming. This book won a Xeric award, and this world would be a poorer place if the money didn’t exist to put this book out, which maintains their damned near perfect grant record. I guess you might hate this if you’re looking for a heartfelt tale of introspection and loss, but if that was the case you probably wouldn’t be picking up a book called “Fight” anyway. Read it, love it, and recommend it to your friends. Yes, even the ones who don’t like comics. If they like funny things done well then you just might manage to convert them to comics. $5