Monday, December 28, 2015

Cartoonist As Insurgent: Charles Forsman's Revenger ... Is Trapped (1-shot)

Cartoonist: Charles Forsman
Publisher: Oily  

Charles Forsman's Revenger … Is Trapped courts illicitness. Think less criminal and more like an eleven-year-old boy finding a Cheri or Club International, waterlogged and with the covers torn off, in an empty lot or on the side of the road. Looking isn't optional. You want to look. You have to look.

Revenger … Is Trapped is the latest in Forsman’s on-going ultra-ultra-violent action comic about, as Forsman puts it on his Patreon homepage, ''a woman in an alternative 1980s USA that roams the land helping the beaten-down and exploited even the score against their oppressors. Think of it like the Incredible Hulk TV show from the 70s with a lot more blood.'' Any Bixby-esque do-gooder-ism on display in the previous issues is out the window with this 1-shot. Revenger … Is Trapped? More like: Revenger REVENGE thyself!

The story beats will feel familiar for those unfortunate souls nursed on 80s actioners from George Cosmatos and John Carpenter—slick yet raggedy American movies with a piquant finish of European sensitivity. Revenger requires no hand-holding, no whys or what-have-yous. Everything the reader needs to know is in the title. Simple. Shrewd. Forsman balls the jack and goes. Revenger … Is Trapped relies on the muscle memory of action movies and other sources of empty calories like side-scrolling video games, Dungeons & Dragons and (yes) comics—old school Comico titles like Mage, Elementals or Evangeline—verboten stuff. Forsman cops subversion, foments, he is the cartoonist as insurgent. Like Carpenter, Forsman gives readers what they want then EL SMACKO! the sobering morality of the moment sets in. Any play at pastiche is by design, a distraction, because when Forsman's subversion hits it hits … hard.

With apologies to Benjamin Marra, Revenger is a O.W.W.O.T. (One Woman War On Tormenters) and she represents Forsman's foremost subversion. She's not one of those classically beautiful scorned women, no Uma nor Glenn, no Thelma nor Louise. Black, scarred and with the back-half of the left-side of her head burned (?) so it looks like she lost a fight with a white hot harrow. Revenger sports a sleeveless top, gloves, ash grey jeans and boots, a no quarter-giving and no shit-taking badass. She looks like a weight lifter, muscular and meaty with thighs thick as tree trunks and arms like an old-timey bare-knuckle middleweight. Forsman draws Revenger as no bullshit. She looks the way a woman with a particular talent for face-punching and roundhouse kicks would and should look. Revenger is the ideal, not some idealized female form only a dude with an over-developed sense and yet (somehow) little understanding of human anatomical limits, an ink pot and an arrested intellect would call 'strong' and 'sexy' and somehow keep a straight face. Forsman may remember the thrill eleven-year-old boys get from discarded soft core porn mags, but Forsman ain't no eleven-year-old boy, he's a grown-ass man.

Forsman's what-you-see-is-what-you-get cartooning extends to his writing. After an ambush, Revenger gets put in a trunk, à la Oldboy, and thrown in an underground pit which branches off into a warren chockfull of wonders like a feral child, hillbillies, a bat-wielding blob and a tumoral seer, well, at least half of one. These circus freak-types are ugly and pitiful, but they are also obstacles in Revenger's way, so she beats them, brains them and rips off their limbs. The lack of punches pulled or limbs left in sockets thrills and disgusts in equal measure—comic book violence without the comic book.

Once Revenger does get topside her hero's journey is only half complete, she's still gotta' deal with a posse of punks with a penchant for pyramidal skull stacking and eyeball-frying. Thankfully this ugly bunch keeps a shed filled with firearms and a 'sharp' looking jacket best described as snikt-y. Forsman's cartooning in Revenger … Is Trapped has a rude, uncomplicated and unflattering edginess to it, if for no other reason than a story calling for harelips, goiters and bulging veiny arms should lack a sense of … romance. So when Forsman goes for the splashy shot of his buckled, booted and bladed heroine it becomes that much grander due to the starkness (ugliness) that precedes it, a perfect example of a cartoonist who understands comic books as a visual medium. And because this is a hyper-realized, over-the-top comic, Forsman punctuates this image of Revenger in full with words from and off panel assailant: ''There she is!'' Oh, yes. Oh, yes, indeed.

Forsman's escape from hillbilly prison plot is trite as are the bulgy-headed, trucker-cap wearing backwoods baddies who stand in Revenger's way. That's the point. Dumb clichés don't (have to) make action movies or comics dumb. Yes, Forsman succeeds in making a 'dumb' action story. And yeah, the local yokels aren't much more than stereotypical inbred straw men. How Forsman elevates Revenger from this morass of the dumbness is to show (not tell) how far a survivor, a killer, like Revenger will go to keep living and keep killing. The final page makes it clear what kind of code and set of morals define Revenger. There's no ambiguity in Revenger. She is Revenger, duh. There's also no doubt Forsman makes kick-ass action comics. What makes the difference is how Forsman gets in the reader's head and asks: what this kind of bloody good fun and chaotic morality says about the ugliness of the bloodthirsty mob that stares back.

For all things Revenger and Charles Forsman, visit

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