Earlier this month, BOOM! Studios made the comics news rounds after it kicked off a “movement” with its Push Comics Forward campaign, which seemed to tie a general need for more diverse voices in comics in with their upcoming titles. Some people were into it, some people called it out as a hollow PR move, and I think you can defend either of those view points, but regardless of your thoughts on how genuine that hashtag movement is, I think that what BOOM! has unleashed under it so far shows they’re at least committed to putting their money where their mouths are. And in the case of the new series Curb Stomp, Ryan Ferrier and Devaki Neogi’s postmodern twist on The Warriors, I think BOOM! might have a title that is even more promising on this front than the bulk of what Image is releasing now.
Ferrier is the (slightly) more known quantity here, thanks to his credits on series like Image’s Hoax Hunters and the MonkeyBrain series D4VE, but he’s still not exactly a household name; I bring this up because I think Curb Stomp shows that BOOM! is willing to move in on the “brave new voices” territory Image has basically neglected now that it it’s mostly working in the world of bringing back the former Image rookies who made it to the big leagues. It’s a bit telling that the comics internet was eager to jump all over the slightest whiff of BOOM!’s mission being corporate speak but no one is talking about the way Image has basically stopped seeking out new voices over the past few years– yeah, it’s easy to see why Image is sticking to the game plan of being an outlet for Big Two creators’ future Hollywood script properties, it’s paying off, but let’s not forget the era when all those dudes were unknowns struggling to sustain an Image series rather than having each issue questionably sell out. By all means, complain about that Push Comics Forward hashtag but let’s also acknowledge that in Devaki Neogi, BOOM! have struck gold, and as sharp as Ferrier’s scripting is, Curb Stomp is an excellent example of a writer being smart enough to stay back and let an incredible artist do her thing with minimal interference.
Set in a vague dystopic future where cities function like old fiefdoms, surrounded by peasant areas that basically get ignored until taxtime comes around, Curb Stomp comes to life because of Neogi’s vivid renderings of this dystopia. Neogi and colorist Neil LaLonde wisely shy away from the drab all tan everything stylings of so many indie comic futures and present Curb Stomp’s Old Beach setting as a kind of neon graveyard, more Escape from New York than Fallout. Old Beach is one of these neglected fiefdoms, one of three boroughs surrounding a metropolis, ignored by the police and the wealthy, but maybe not for long. Old Beach’s defenders are The Fever, a sort of gang militia that stands out from its rival gangs for its disinterest in more criminal activity; they’re not drug runners or pimps but they aren’t nice people either. They’re bleak futurist valkyries who will kick some thugs’ asses then come wreck your punk club.
This probably sounds like a number of exploitation flicks when laid out like that, and you’re not necessarily wrong to think so. But LaLonde takes a Pete Toms approach to coloring this thing, and instead of covering Neogi’s Mike Allred meets Paul Pope art up in sterile digital sheen, he gives it toxic waste pastels, each page basically getting its own palette. So a sequence introducing a character going by the name of Bloody Mary looks like it’s got the color scheme of Aladdin Sane after it’s been left out in a leaky shed for a little too long while Violet Volt’s introductory violence in a convenience store she oversees is colored like an ’80s soda can label.
LaLonde’s stark coloring also draws out the boldness of Neogi’s linework, emphasizing the minimalism of her background scenery, which is often just flat colors with splashes of ink or bars of color. The characters are able to become even more iconic as a result, fitting the aggressive mood and style of both the narrative and the character designs. Like The Warriors, the narrative is really just an excuse to force you to follow these violent characters on an uncomfortable journey through their surroundings, and Neogi’s stated focus on defining character traits through character style really pays off. The Fever lack a definite uniform but Neogi designs them in a way that highlights their unity while also allowing their identities to stand out. Each character fits into some kind of immediately recognizable “role,” from Derby Girl’s self-explanatory “firecracker on roller skates” status to Violet Volt’s baseball bat packing varsity punk, they’re the right kind of archetypes, easy to peg but fun and malleable. The crew’s den mother Machete Betty fsets off the chain of events that kick the narrative into motion when she goes a little too far in a skirmish with the Elvis-fetishizing gang The Wrath and even before that happens, you can read her uncertainty over her life in the way her own fashion is less defined than the rest of her crew, a bit more practical with the leather jacket and hoodie look, but still bold with the bright purple hair. The instant you meet Machete Betty, you sense that she is unsure of her future, as well as the future of her home and her gang and Ferrier makes that even more detectable in the narration Betty provides, which jumps between intense love and understanding for her Fevermates and slight pessimism at the path they’re forced to walk. From the very first panel, as Betty floats in some rich person’s pool staring up at the stars before the homeowner kicks her out, the future is on her mind, a fitting meta narrative angle for anyone reading this while dwelling on comics’ own future. It’s a beautifully rendered sequence that emphasizes Ferrier’s distanced approach to the narrative and Neogi’s knack for packing a lot of punch into very simple panels.
Where Neogi struggles a bit is in the fight choreography that becomes necessary after that incident. Betty’s solo battle with a few Wrath members is well executed, with panels breaking from the grid to become elongated or smashed and LaLonde’s decision to give the fight’s devastating conclusion the reverse colors of its more tense middle is a bold but effective move. But the larger fight towards the end of the first issue is kind of a muddy mess, with awkward pacing and some weird coloring choices that at one point make it seem like Drew Barrymore from Firestarter is being loaded into the Scooby Gang’s Mystery Machine. That’s easily forgiven by the fact that Ferrier gives this first issue an actual arc, though, and even ends things on a decent cliffhanger rather than the “let’s just introduce a new character and call it good” brand of ending too many comics rely on these days.
Small complaints aside, Curb Stomp is the kind of indie comic I would love to see more of, sprinkled with just enough references to cult classics to make it warmly familiar, but also bold enough in its style that it feels instantly unique and iconic, and stocked full of characters that stand out in a landscape of mopey supermen and obnoxious anti-heroes. I may have been skeptical of how BOOM! was going to push comics forward myself, but Curb Stomp is a fun, vivacious debut that makes it a lot easier to buy into that rhetoric.
Curb Stomp comes out this Wednesday, February 25th, through BOOM!
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover