Advanced Review: Homophobia In MMA Addressed In AfterShock Comics’ ‘Kill A Man’
by Rachel Bellwoar
After another fighter outs him at a press conference, James’ career takes a hit. Will this comeback story respond with readers?
Twenty years ago, Xavier Mayne fought DJ Bellyi and Bellyi died from the injuries he sustained. During the fight Bellyi had been making homophobic remarks. If this sounds vaguely familiar (and literally right before reading this graphic novel I had been looking up Reinhard Kleist’s new graphic novel, Knock Out!, which comes out next year), Emile Griffith is one of the athletes Steve Orlando dedicates Kill A Man to — his fight with Benny Paret ended similarly.
Co-written by Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Kill A Man is about Bellyi’s son, James, who decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an MMA fighter. He’s on the verge of becoming middleweight champion, too, when the current title holder, Waldron, outs him at a press conference. Suddenly it’s not looking like Bellyi will be fighting Waldron after all and, even if he does, he doesn’t have a coach. His entire team’s jumped ship. Bellyi’s only chance may be the guy who killed his father, but is that an option Bellyi is willing to take?
Like the Audience Network’s Kingdom, which ran for three seasons and is currently streaming on Netflix, Kill A Man looks at homophobia in the world of MMA. By featuring two generations of fighters, Kill A Man is in a unique position to consider what’s changed and what hasn’t when it comes to acceptance. Kingdom, on the other hand, dropped the ball a few times in season three, including committing one of the biggest tropes around gay characters.
Al Morgan is the artist on Kill A Man and in the sketchbook at the end you really get to appreciate his character design work when it comes to Mayne and seeing young Mayne and old Mayne side by side – how the facial features are the same but the hairstyles are different. It’s hard to identify a pattern when it comes to the color changes during the fights. Especially when the panels are drained of color it gives the impression of being a flashback but, while that’s sometimes the case, Morgan isn’t consistent.
What Morgan does achieve, with the help of letterer, Jim Campbell, are some amazing transitions. They’re so sharp and jarring, like when the fight between Mayne and Bellyi Sr. starts and it’s immediately red, without hesitation. Campbell also cuts sentences off, so you have to keep reading to the next page. Sometimes Morgan uses these moments to change locations, so the sentence acts like a bridge between scenes.
Instead of leaving the pages white, Morgan uses a lot of black for the backgrounds and gutters, creating a faceless crowd. During the fights it’s like they’re the only two people in the world – the people fighting in the ring or cage. It’s an approach that’s especially interesting when it comes to the press. Along with not singling out reporters visually, Campbell will often use speech bubbles that don’t have tails, so the questions can’t be tied to anyone. It’s extremely convenient, given how offensive these questions can be.
Kill A Man goes on sale Wednesday December 2nd from AfterShock Comics.