"Your mask ain't all he took..."
I am a big fan of the original Shaft film, there is something about a black man striking out on his own and saving his little slice of the city with style and machismo that speaks to me. I’m old fashion that way, sue me. So when I heard BlackBox comics was putting out a book about a man in a futuristic Harlem called Hellfighter Quinn, well I was all in.
Our story beings with a young man being defeated in one on one combat by a larger cape clad bruiser in front of a live studio, I mean stadium audience. We jump to Harlem where our eponymous hero teaches a child the sweet science of pugilism only to discover that he is also on t.v. or rather his likeness is. You see Quinn, the retired champion of Harlem, is now a boxing coach so to see his former moniker, Hellfighter, on t.v. is a bit of a shock. He then realizes that his protege Tyrell is fighting in something called a Tribunal tournament in what appears to be a realm parallel to our own. Once there he witnesses’ his pupil’s last breath as we realize he is the young man we saw bested in the beginning of the issue. So Quin with a punchers chance defeats one scaly challenger and then chases after the man who has just killed his young charge. This man is known as the Invictus and he appears to be the champion of the Queen who controls this other realm. He delves into a labyrinth to go dole out some Harlem style justice at the end of his fists.
So Quin speaks like every brotha from Harlem I’ve ever known (and that is a few)
and yet he is not written by a black man. The writer of Hellfighter Quin, Jay Sandlin is a white guy who has managed to do in one comic, with Quinn, what Marvel couldn’t do with Luke Cage since his inception, give him some authenticity without sounding like a stereotype. Now there is a lot of African American vernacular in this book, but it doesn’t come off as uninspired or manufactured, at least most of it doesn’t. And while there are some instances where I was like, okay he can tone it down, most of the internal and external dialogue seemed fairly genuine. I would have liked to get a little more back story about how the parallel realm became connected to Harlem or the earth for that matter. What are the various clans that are spoken of and what does it mean to be ‘clanless’ a term used quite often to describe Quinn and his protege? Sandlin does a great job of writing visceral action, Quinn’s first fight after reclaiming the Hellfighter mantle is brutal and bloody with an unforgiving and pointed finish, which not only displays our heroes skill and tenacity but also his resourcefulness and aggression.
Artists Atagun Ilhan and Maria Santaoalla give me Jeff Lemire vibes. There is something about their style that you would think wouldn’t fit an action comic such as this, but does extremely well illustrating the fluidity of combat and the hardcore blood and gore associated with a battle to the death. And the image of Quinn standing above his defeated foe in the Muhammad Ali pose is one for the comic record books. The black people in the comic also look like black people and not white people with tanned skin, from Quinn’s nose to his caesar hair cut there is a bit of authenticity in the artwork as well. Justin Birch rounds out the letters and does a great job with the specialized word ballons for the Merman quin fights as well as Quinn’s own inner internal dialogue. Each little tweak adds a layer of character that Birch has shown time and again he’s able to create while lettering.
This is a great first issue and I’m really looking forward to more of the Hellfighter. Pick this up.
This review was written by Ra'Chaun Rogers on behalf of Concept Moon Studios. If you enjoy his comic reviews click here or more!