Review: Curb Stomp #1 (of 4)

Urban Dictionary - the Internet’s most trusted resource in vernacularism - defines “Curb Stomp” thusly: “To place someone's mouth on a cement curb, and then stomp on their head from behind to break out their teeth.” Fairly clinical, I think you’ll agree, but the definition does go on to offer the following circumstantial example:

  • "Dude, what happened to your mouth?"
  • "Ah goh pur pomp!

Oh, Urban Dictionary, don’t go changin’. Yes, whether it’s called the Sidewalk Sandwich, the Oakland Special, the Cincinnati Chainstart or simply the Curb Stomp, the end effect of having your mouth magically transformed from gaping word hole to bowl of Chicklet soup remains the same. Of course, not only is the humble Curb Stomp perhaps the most elegant weapon in the non-lethal arsenal of any amateur practitioner of street-based fisticuffery, it also makes for a pretty fun comic book.

Like Justice League: The Nail, or recently-appropriated Australian TV show, The Slap, Ferrier and Neogi’s Curb Stomp #1 explores the aftermath of a titular moment when everything goes wrong. In this case, it happens in the middle of a story about The Fever, an all-female crew that defends the turf of Old Beach: one of three boroughs that make up a gangland metropolis. When delivered by a member of The Fever to a gun-brandishing rival, the Curb Stomp in question plunges The City’s gangs into war with each other, with City Hall seemingly pulling the strings.

Curb Stomp #1 Main Cover by Tula LotayWith names like Machete Betty, Violet Volt, Derby Girl and Bloody Mary, you know the sort of person you’re getting in a member of The Fever (the prescription for which is presumably not more cowbell). I mean, even the one named “Daisy Chain” belies her less aggressive sobriquet by deftly wielding a butterfly knife. But it’s in these characters’ introductions that I began to enjoy Curb Stomp (after its title, obviously). As I mentioned on Episode 173 of the CBMFP (available on iTunes and Stitcher!), I love it when a band comes together. And the way Ferrier mingles his mistresses of mayhem into the story shows a strong snippet of motivation and skill that sets up his story’s actors and the world itself; succinctly, but with purpose. And a twist.

Each of these characters has a clear edge, but whether it’s a career, a philosophy, a habit or a family, what we are shown as much as anything, is how human each Fever is, let alone what they mean to each other. What follows is a story that, I think, knowingly plays with 70s and 80s gang-based action flick clichés, as seen in such seminal hits as The Warriors, The Outsiders or, perhaps most appropriately, Switchblade Sisters. As such, Ferrier’s dialogue is very on-the-nose, maybe more than it needs to be. There’s also a lot of convenience in Curb Stomp, from jammed guns to rival leaders easily getting along out of nowhere. That and its inherent predictability could be seen as weaknesses; but at the same time, they’re also kind of par for the course. Again, that’s just the sort of genre the team is playing with here.

Then again, a few things did get muddled for me in Curb Stomp’s telling, like the dynamic between Betty, Daisy and Sweet Pea, for example. And as much as I enjoy its roll-call intro, that choppy flow also hampers the issue as it goes along. Some of that has to do with uncharacteristically stiff writing from Ferrier at points, but mostly, I think it was the art.

Maybe it’s just because I so badly want this issue to be drawn by its cover artist - the inimitable Tula Lotay, who has done a fantastic job - but I wasn’t instantly a fan of these interiors. For the most part, Neogi’s work reminds me of what turns me off in Ming Doyle’s art; that stiffness of figure that’s really only effective when Mike Allred does it. And even then, it can sometimes affect a book’s pacing; especially one like this, which is so reliant on action. Take for example the moment of the Curb Stomp itself: it feels ungainly set up and without any flow, which is a shame for such a big scene.

Of course, kineticism sometimes comes secondary, and Neogi’s art can be really fun; like the molotov cocktail scene, for instance - that’s some good stuff. But any other time a scene requires movement, either the motion itself is clunky, perspective becomes ... experimental (to put it nicely) and form is lost to this nebulous mush of literally ham-fisted punches. But saying all that, there’s something about Neogi’s style in Curb Stomp that grows on me each time I look at it, especially when pulled through the scorch of colorist Neil Lalonde’s heavy neon palette. While I think it could use more general polish, it also reminds me of a velvet painting or a black-light poster, and given the context of what I hold to be its cinematic influences, I’m kind of okay with that.

Despite some of these shortcomings, however, I’ve got a lot of time for what’s being put forward in this Boom miniseries. If nothing else, it’s made me want to bite down and brace for what’s next. I’m not sure what more you could ask for in something called Curb Stomp.

Score: 3/5

Curb Stomp #1 Writer: Ryan Ferrier Artist: Devaki Neogi Colorist: Neil Lalonde Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/25/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital.

Hear more about Curb Stomp #1 on this week's comic podcast the CBMFP